Congress is up to its old tricks again - picking an important piece of legislation and loading it down with extra baggage.
A drought relief bill is being used this week as the vehicle for such pet projects. In an amendment to the drought measure, the House of Representatives canceled a scheduled cut in milk price supports. Then the lawmakers went in the other direction and raised milk support levels by 50-cents for three months.They piously declared they were doing it for the consumer, protecting dairy farmers so they won't reduce herds because of higher feed prices. Herd reduction would cause a milk shortage and make milk cost more, the compassionate congressmen explained.
They blithely ignored studies indicating there was no likelihood of any shortages. In fact, Agriculture Department officials said raising the support price could push dairy surpluses as high as 10 billion pounds next year. The cost could run as high as $300 million.
The lawmakers also tacked on a little $24 million for Texas cotton growers. This has nothing to do with drought, but some of those farmers suffered crop losses to hail last year, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do something for them as well.
In another mind-boggling action, a House committee authorized $150 million in drought relief for tobacco farmers. No tax money is supposed to be used for price supports, but because disaster relief isn't considered a "price support," the action was approved.
However, a 1985 law says tobacco farmers are not eligible for disaster payments if they have not purchased federal crop insurance. That requirement was waived by the committee.
A Senate version of drought aid would also sell grain at a discount to livestock feeders who don't grow their own grain. It also would sell government corn at a discount to ethanol producers, to compensate them for higher prices.
Such provisions go beyond helping compensate farmers for crops lost to drought. This kind of aid - giving farmers money because they have to pay higher prices for some things - is unprecedented in the entire history of farm policy. It sets some dangerous precedents.
Do other people now qualify for such help? Can a business get government money because its costs have risen? Selling discount corn to ethanol producers is treading into this kind of territory.
One unhappy consequence of this extra baggage is that it might force the president to veto drought aid legislation. Watching Congress in action in an election year can be a discouraging experience.