By San Antonio Express-News
Texas lawmakers have sought to tie necessary disaster-relief aid for Hurricane Harvey with price controls for cotton.
It’s a particularly rich maneuver because in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which hit New Jersey and New York especially hard in 2012, so many Texas lawmakers inaccurately criticized relief for that storm as filled with unnecessary pork and other expenditures.
Yet, here we are, with the so-called “cotton fix” somehow tucked into an $81 billion disaster relief package that recently passed the U.S. House. Texas lawmakers apparently see no problem, disconnect or irony.
This is likely because cotton is a big deal in the Lone Star State, generating about $2.2 billion in crop value in 2016, according to Kevin Diaz, a reporter with Hearst Newspapers’ Washington bureau. Much of that cotton production is in West Texas, far from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.
The cotton fix would put the crop back into the Price Loss Coverage program, ensuring a minimum price. Cotton had been removed from the program in the 2014 farm bill after the U.S. lost a challenge with the World Trade Organization. Since then, cotton growers have relied on a special crop insurance subsidy to backup crop prices
Cotton and disaster relief are two separate issues, and should be treated as such. Or as Daren Bakst of the Heritage Foundation told Diaz, “This is a major policy change that shouldn’t be buried in some disaster relief bill.”
The appropriate venue would be upcoming debate over the farm bill.
The industry says inclusion in the program is needed. But reinstating the price support program could invite another WTO challenge and provoke a trade war with other cotton-producing countries. A down market could cost taxpayers.
Whatever the case, it has nothing to do with disaster relief for those hit so hard by hurricanes and wildfires.
Maneuvers such as these — leveraging disasters and hardship to invoke a major policy change for an unrelated issue — is a chief reason why distrust of Congress is so strong. The right thing to do is expeditiously pass an appropriate amount of disaster relief for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California. And then debate the merits of the cotton fix with other agriculture issues.