The country’s longest government shutdown in history came to a sputtering close on Jan. 25, costing the U.S. economy an estimated $6 billion and a wave of anxiety among Americans from TSA agents to national park workers to, yes, canola producers. Lawmakers agreed to reopen the government for 21 days to try to reach a deal with President Trump – and they succeeded in keeping the government functioning – but the quagmire around border security remains.
Most of us who farm – or in my case, used to farm – relish the stoic, get-it-done, pull yourself up by your bootstraps image that comes to mind when one thinks of a farmer. As a result, most are reluctant to acknowledge that we are joined at the hip to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But absence does make the heart grow fonder. And the government shutdown that dragged on for 35 days highlighted just how tied to the USDA producers really are, be it through low-interest operating loans, crop reports, price support and conservation programs, trade promotion, research, etc.
If irreparable harm to many programs and individuals did not already occur, the breaking point was certainly close. Mother Nature does not wait for the whims of political compromise. Agronomists must be ready to go to the field, barn, orchard, etc. at the proper time or an entire year is put a risk. Our food supply, as abundant as it seems, is more precarious than most realize. Food does not materialize out of thin air and appear on grocery shelves. (Well actually, it does – through photosynthesis.) Let’s hope this is the last time this insanity occurs. As a nation, we are better than this.
While the shutdown inflicted harm on so many across the country, there was a little good news: it made the vast majority of Americans frustrated, including members of Congress. So, there was no desire for another shutdown when the 3-week Continuing Resolution expired on Feb. 15. Instead, Congress passed the remaining FY19 appropriation bills, albeit 4.5 months late, ending the shutdown threat for now or at least until the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. (Coincidentally, September is also when the national debt limit is forecast to be hit and need to be raised, which has triggered shutdown threats in the past, but that’s another subject.)
I was hopeful that Congress would put an end to this foolishness for good by enacting legislation that would automatically trigger a continuation of current year funding levels whenever it fails to enact annual spending bills on time. Several members from both parties have introduced legislation that would do so, but it seems for now, the moment has passed. I would expect such legislation would gain traction if we do a repeat of the shutdown madness again this fall.
To repeat myself, let’s hope we don’t go down that path again. We will have to wait and see how the annual budget and appropriations process plays out this year. While we are fortunate to live in a resilient and strong country, one shouldn’t assume the nation can continue to take such self-inflicted abuse without serious consequences.
Dale Thorenson is assistant director of the U.S. Canola Association in Washington, D.C.