Gary Moseman noted earlier this week at the Great Falls Tribune Online (Mont.) that, “When Congress reaches its now-customary partisan deadlocks on Capitol Hill more than 2,000 miles from northcentral Montana, it has the characteristics of a sideshow for most of us — power-suited dandies posturing for the cameras and for the most advantageous positions going into the coming election year.
“Watching the body’s inability to pass key taxing and spending legislation, along with nightly sound bites by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with counterpunches from House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, we have no trouble at all understanding congressional approval ratings that have plummeted well into single digits.
“But before becoming too cynical about the process, it’s important to remember the extreme weight of the measures currently occupying the time of our national leaders.”
Ron Hays reported yesterday at the Oklahoma Farm Report Online that, “The money continues to flow from Crop Insurers to farmers and ranchers as 2011 rapidly comes to a close. According to the latest statistics of indemnity payments that have been made nationally, $7.938 billion has paid to farmers for losses to their 2011 crops- based on data through the close of business December 27, 2011.
“More than a fourth of that money has been handed over to Texas farmers who have received $2.213 billion with likely more claims yet to be paid. For every dollar paid into crop insurance for the 2011 crops in Texas- $2.04 has been paid out to date.
“According to Scott Bulling with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma’s share of Crop Insurance payments now totals $381,789,941, with a loss ratio of $1.89 paid out for each dollar that was paid in. Bulling believes there are still a significant amount of claims to be paid to Oklahoma producers for the 2011 crop year, and that the final indemnity total for the state could approach or exceed $400 million.”
Robert Pear reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “When Congress handily passed a bill to set payroll tax rates, jobless benefits and Medicare doctors’ fees for the next two months, it seemed to end an epic political struggle between President Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill. In fact, that was just the beginning.
“Every issue in dispute remains unresolved, waiting to be addressed when Congress returns next month for an election-year session in which agreements could be even more elusive.”
Janet Hook reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Washington’s high-decibel battle over the payroll-tax break ended Friday without debate, a roll-call vote or even a peep of dissent, as Congress approved legislation to prevent a Jan. 1 tax increase.
“The House and Senate quickly approved a two-month extension of the tax break. The action ended the latest in a series of partisan stalemates that have driven Congress’s approval ratings to an all-time low.”
Janet Hook and Laura Meckler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “House Speaker John Boehner, bowing to heavy pressure from fellow Republicans, agreed Thursday to a two-month extension of a payroll-tax break, ending a stalemate that had created a wedge within the party.
“The deal, which forestalls a Jan. 1 tax increase on 160 million workers, represents a retreat for the House GOP, which had been at odds with Senate Republicans and party elders who feared the party would suffer in the 2012 elections if the tax break was allowed to expire.
“The new agreementstill must be approved by the House and Senate, but with most members already gone for the holidays, congressional leaders hope the compromise can be adopted Friday without a formal vote.”
Janet Hook and Laura Meckler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama on Wednesday inserted himself directly into the congressional impasse over legislation to avert a Jan. 1 tax increase, but there was no sign of a breakthrough as Republicans found themselves in disarray on one of their signature issues.
“House Speaker John Boehnerpublicly gave little ground to the president or to growing pressure from fellow Republicans, many of whom see the standoff as damaging to their party. (Note: a portion of remarks made yesterday by Speaker Boehner can be heard here (MP3- 1:00)).
“In a 10-minute phone call with the Ohio Republican, Mr. Obama urged the House to approve a two-month extension of the current, lower tax rate, and promised to negotiate a longer extension in the new year, according to administration and congressional officials.”
Janet Hook and Laura Meckler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “House Republicans dug in for a year-end standoff Tuesday, scuttling a temporary extension to a payroll-tax break that President Barack Obama called the ‘only viable way’ to prevent a New Year’s tax increase.
“The path out of this impasse is uncertain even by the standards of this topsy-turvy year for Congress, in which simple acts of legislating have been clouded by uncertainty. If Congress doesn’t act by Dec. 31, payroll taxes are slated to rise to 6.2% from 4.2%, affecting the paychecks of 160 million workers, and two million unemployed workers would lose federal benefits by mid-February.
“Tuesday, the House rejected by a 229-193 vote a bill passed by the Senate that would have extended the payroll-tax break for two months while Congress tried to fashion a longer-term fix. The GOP-controlled House, upending a deal that appeared set just days earlier, also demanded that Senate leaders return to Washington and negotiate a longer extension of the tax break as well as expiring benefits for the long-term unemployed and Medicare payments to doctors.”
Janet Hook reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The threat of a New Year’s tax increase loomed larger Monday, as Congress deadlocked over legislation to extend a payroll tax break and unemployment benefits. (Note: A graphical overview of the House and Senate tax cut bills is available here).
“The split between the parties —and among Republicans—widened as the House was poised to vote Tuesday to block a bipartisan Senate bill extending current payroll tax rates by two months and extending benefits for the long-term unemployed that are due to expire Dec. 31.”
Rosalind S. Helderman reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “Senate leaders reached an agreement Friday to extend the payroll tax cut for two months, averting a New Year’s tax increase for millions of workers. The agreement also will require the administration to decide quickly whether to allow construction of a controversial transcontinental oil pipeline.”
The Post article noted that, “White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer called the deal a ‘significant victory,’ extending a tax cut that many analysts say will help the economy.”
Janet Hook and Naftali Bendavid reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congressional leaders—fearful of voters’ wrath over Washington’s bickering and brinkmanship—stepped back Thursday from a possible government shutdown, clearing the way for at least a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut that is set to expire at year’s end.
“The shift marked a dizzying change in tone from the contentious atmosphere that prevailed just a day earlier. Republican and Democratic leaders returned to the bargaining table and struck a deal on a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating after Friday.
“A deal was harder to come by on Congress’ second quest, which is to agree on a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut and of expiring unemployment benefits. But the chances of keeping the tax cut in place at least temporarily improved as Democratic officials said they were preparing a fall back to a two-month extension if they fail to reach a longer-term agreement in the coming days.”
Rosalind S. Helderman reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Negotiations over how to extend a payroll tax holiday for 160 million Americans and avoid a government shutdown this weekend ground to a halt Wednesday after a standoff in the Senate over how to proceed.
“Amid the gridlock, Cabinet secretaries for the first time formally alerted affected federal workers Wednesday to the possibility of a shutdown — indicating in an e-mail that they would determine later which staffers are ‘essential’ to maintain operations in the event of a funding disruption.
“If there was any sign of progress, it was that Senate Democratic leaders met with President Obama on Wednesday at the White House to weigh whether to drop their demand that the $120 billion payroll tax cut be paid for with a new surtax on millionaires. Republicans have rejected the idea, but it was not clear Wednesday whether that concession from Democrats would be enough to produce a deal.”
Janet Hook reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress lurched toward another round of political brinksmanship, as haggling over payroll-tax relief has slowed approval of a year-end budget bill needed to keep the government open beyond Friday.
“The House, on a largely party-line vote, Tuesday passed its version of legislation to extend a payroll-tax break, renew extended unemployment benefits and offset the revenue loss with a package of spending cuts.
Rosalind S. Helderman reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In another test of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership of his restive Republican majority, the House is expected to vote Tuesday on a GOP plan to extend a one-year reduction in the payroll taxes paid by 160 million workers.
“Republicans have been divided over whether to extend the tax cut, as President Obama has urged, or allow the levy to revert to 6.2 percent in January from 4.2 percent.”
The article explained that, “But by linking the tax cut with other Republican priorities — including speeding up construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline — and by paying for the package with other spending cuts, GOP leaders believe they’ve come up with a measure that can draw overwhelming Republican support.
“House approval would set up a clash later this week with the Senate, where Democratic leaders have rejected key pieces of the House bill.”
Forrest Laws reported on Friday at the Delta Farm Press Online that, “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ farm bill approach may no longer be a good fit for agriculture, and it certainly doesn’t fit the rice industry.
“That seemed to be the gist of the comments made at a panel on ‘Farm Policy Outlook and Analysis: Where We Are and What that Means for Rice’ at this morning’s session of the USA Rice Federation’s annual Outlook Conference in Austin, Texas.
“The mini-farm bill proposal submitted by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to the Select Committee on Deficit Reduction included a provision for target prices that could be used to provide revenue insurance coverage for the row crop commodities.”
Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture Online that, “Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Thursday that he hopes congressional ag committees won’t abandon their work on a farm bill that was submitted to the deficit-cutting ‘Super Committee’ last month.
“‘I thought we had pretty wide agreement among a lot of us–I’m talking about the Senate Side,’ said Harkin, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and former chairman.
“The agreement crafted by the leaders of both the House and Senate ag committees eliminated direct payments, which Harkin has long opposed. It also backed a revenue protection plan similar to the current law’s ACRE (average crop revenue election) program.”
The article added that, “Harkin said there is talk of starting over from scratch on a farm bill, but he favors keeping the so-called framework developed in November as the starting point for a new farm bill.”
DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday that, “House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson wants Congress to consider adding the farm bill, which was prepared for the failed supercommittee on deficit reduction, to a bill to pay for an extension of payroll tax relief and unemployment insurance and to prevent doctors who take Medicare patients from seeing a cut in their payments.
“In a speech Tuesday, Peterson, D-Minn., said the deal would allow use of the $23 billion in agricultural cuts over 10 years to offset the payroll and unemployment costs. In return, lawmakers would pass the new farm bill and not make the agriculture budget subject to the across-the-board cuts that are supposed to go into effect in 2013 because the supercommittee was unable to reach agreement.
“It’s unclear whether Peterson’s proposal is realistic.”