I've considered the editors of the Washington Post to be many things over the years, but I never took them to be sore losers.
For months, the Post's editorial writers have killed thousands of trees and wasted countless barrels of ink trashing farm programs and calling on Congress to end payments to “well-to-do” farmers.
Under the guise of fairness, they also hired Dan Morgan, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, as a contract writer on the Post's special investigations team. Morgan's farm bill articles have been anything but objective.
The Post's editorial writers, along with most of the Washington-based environmental community, had high hopes for the Dorgan-Grassley payment limit amendment that would place a “hard cap” of $250,000 on farm program payments to producers and their spouses.
So when that amendment — and one by Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar barring payments to individuals reporting adjusted gross income of more than $750,000 — went down in defeat, the Post's editorial writers were not happy.
One of those, identified by the Environmental Working Group's Ken Cook as Charles Lane, wrote an editorial, “Backward in the Senate,” attacking Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
The editorial took issue with the Senate's handling of Dorgan-Grassley, which fell four votes short of the 60 needed for passage. (Lincoln and others insisted on 60 votes, the same number Republican senators demanded to limit the number of farm bill amendments.)
Lincoln, the editorial said, “dug in her heels against Dorgan-Grassley,” calling it “unfair to producers of capital-intensive crops, such as rice and cotton, and claiming it would have made U.S. exports less competitive in global markets.
“Left unsaid in Lincoln's statement was that 26 farms in her home state received $250,000 or more in 2005, according to government statistics compiled by the Environmental Working Group,” the editorial said.
It noted Lincoln could have filibustered the amendments, but, instead, asked Senate leaders for a special voting rule. “Now Lincoln has something to crow about on her next trip to the cotton and rice fields of Arkansas,” it said. “But for a Democratic Party ostensibly committed to fiscal discipline, majority rule and economic equality, this is a major embarrassment.”
Cotton and rice farmers are tired of seeing themselves pilloried in the newspapers and on TV by writers who wouldn't know the difference between a cotton plant and soybeans. As one letter writer to the Post said, “Your caustic remarks are prime examples of the elitist attitudes we farm folks endure in every farm bill debate.”
The Post wasn't the only publication slamming the vote, and those editorials won't be the last word. Environmental groups want the House-Senate conference committee to revisit Dorgan-Grassley.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin of Iowa, who expressed disappointment after the Dorgan-Grassley failure, could re-introduce the amendment. As chairman of the conference committee, Harkin's opinions are likely to carry much more weight than they did during the last farm bill conference.