Baseball???s not the only thing in full swing here in Washington. So is Congress???s post-Easter work period. And conservatives had better watch out for liberals using the legislative equivalent of steroids to power through an agenda of higher taxes and more special-interest giveaways. The farm bill, the congressional budget and immigration are the three big items that conservatives need to monitor this week on Capitol Hill.
The Farm Bill
Pressure is mounting for congressional leaders to strike a deal on the farm bill. President Bush said that if they can???t reach an agreement by April 18, they should pass a one-year extension of current programs. Conservatives should oppose either option. The current subsidy system is a Depression-era relic, and a deal would only increase the cost of the program by $10 billion, to a staggering $607 billion over the next 10 years. This at a time when 2007 net farm income increased 48% from 2006, pushing the average household income for farms well over $80,000 per year.
In addition to covering more crops and continuing direct payments of $2.1 billion annually to corn farmers, $1.1 billion to wheat farmers and another $2 billion to those growing other crops, the farm bill would raise taxes on business to create a permanent farm disaster aid program. The bill also fails to rein in subsidies to large agribusiness. The Senate couldn???t muster 50 votes to phase out subsidy payments to farmers making more than $750,000 a year. Despite talk of real reform, this farm bill is nothing more than the same irresponsible New Deal-style government interference.
Worse, these programs are unnecessary. Corn prices have risen 55% and wheat prices 109% in the past year. Farmers are switching from wheat to corn because Congress continues to force more ethanol made from corn into our gas tanks, distorting the free market for farmers.
Both the House and Senate passed different versions of the Fiscal Year 2009 budget resolution, and a conference committee is preparing to work out the differences. The House version provides for a ???reconciliation??? process that would allow Democrats to craft a Medicare and Alternative Minimum Tax measure that dissenting Republicans could not filibuster. Conservatives should be wary: The practical effect of using this method to pass a tax and health care measure is that Democrats can pass a budget without input from one Republican.
The House and Senate budgets being negotiated both allow for most of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire in just over three years. Spending would rise under the resulting $3 trillion measure, yet the tax cuts are allowed to expire to pay for new spending. (The Senate version, at least, would extend $240 billion in cuts for the working poor, married couples, families with children and those inheriting large estates.
The bottom line is that the House and Senate will consider a budget resolution in the next few weeks that could pave the way for tax increases, the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and massive new spending.
Congressman Heath Schuler of North Carolina has proposed a tough ???Blue Dog??? Democrat approach to immigration. Schuler???s bill would increase law enforcement on the border and provide more money to complete the 700 miles of double-reinforced fencing mandated in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The bill would expand the E-Verify program to allow employers to use cutting-edge technology to ensure that hired employees are present legally in the United States. Finally, the bill would put more resources into enforcing existing laws.
Strong border security is a message popular with the American public???and hence with members of Congress who want to be re-elected. Conservatives should watch this situation to see if there are enough representatives willing to sign the discharge petition to allow the House to debate border security, workplace enforcement and increased resources to enforce existing law. Members of Congress have put together a discharge petition and need 218 signatures to get the bill on the floor of the House before the end of this Congress.
Beware these issues as they progress. Conservatives must ensure we aren???t brushed back by head-hunting liberals determined to raise taxes, do nothing on border security and give more free money to farmers.