Jan 18, 2008
Feinstein Refuses to Throw in the Towel on AgJOBS

Last fall, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., decided not to add AgJOBS as an amendment to the Farm Bill. It was the latest blow to the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, which has been marinating in Congress for more than four years.

On Nov. 5, Feinstein released a statement explaining her action. The text of her statement (in quotes) is given below, interspersed with insightful questions (not in quotes) from a journalist who’s been following the progress of AgJOBS for three years: yours truly.

Think of it as an imaginary interview. Feinstein walks into the press room, flanked by her entourage. She sits down in front of the reporter. He starts asking questions:

Senator Feinstein, what’s the deal with AgJOBS?

“I had every intention of offering legislation to create a stable, reliable agricultural worker program – known as AgJOBS – as an amendment on the Farm Bill. This is something I’ve been working on for a long time now.”

Yeah, you and Larry Craig. Who else has been involved?

“Our allies in agriculture – growers, farmers and labor – have been rallying the troops. We’ve been lobbying members and counting votes. And we were prepared to fight the good fight.”

That sounds very dramatic. What did you think your chances of success were?

“When we started this effort, we knew it was an uphill battle because immigration reform is such a hot-button issue. But we knew that it was critical for the U.S. agriculture industry to pass this bill, and we knew that a majority of members in the Senate supports AgJOBS.”

So, opposition was tough but you were prepared to fight. Got it. Why is this so important, by the way? Some of our readers might be uninformed.

“Why is this so important? Because without it, we will continue to see labor shortages far into the future. Fruit will rot. Crops will go unharvested. Operations will be forced to cut back or move to Mexico. And U.S. agriculture will lose market share to growers abroad – in China, in South America, in Europe.”

That sounds terrible. You’d think Congress would pass it in a heartbeat. What happened?

“We know that we can win this. A broad, bipartisan coalition of members believes AgJOBS is a necessary solution to the crisis being faced by the agricultural industry. But in this session, unfortunately, you need more than broad support – you need the right time and opportunity to line up as well.”

It’s a matter of timing. I see. But AgJOBS backers have been saying that for quite a while. You’d think the right opportunity would have come along in the last four years. Anyway, please continue.

“So, when we took a clear-eyed assessment of the politics of the Farm Bill and the defeat of the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, it became clear that our support could not sustain these competing forces.”

But what happened to all the so-called “supporters” of AgJOBS in the Senate?

“Unfortunately, many of our supporters believe they cannot support AgJOBS on the Farm Bill. So, after numerous meetings and discussions, we have decided not to endanger the broad support for AgJOBS by taking a non-representative vote on the Farm Bill.”

I see. They didn’t want to attach AgJOBS to all that other Farm Bill baggage.

“But this fight is not over. We will be seeking time for this bill on the Senate floor – perhaps this winter or early next year.”

You’ve said similar things before. What’s the difference this time?

“I am writing to Majority Leader Harry Reid and asking for floor time designated for the consideration of AgJOBS.”

Didn’t you already do that? I’m getting a strong sense of déjà vu here.

“And if there is another legislative vehicle that is a viable option, we won’t hesitate to move AgJOBS as an amendment. And if any immigration amendment is offered to the Farm Bill, I will not hesitate to offer AgJOBS as a second-degree amendment.”

You don’t seem to be paying attention to me anymore, senator, and we’re running out of time. What’s the bottom line, here? Is AgJOBS ever going to pass? Should we just give up?

“Bottom line: I am committed to moving AgJOBS in whatever way that I can this year. We will not give up the fight.”

Thank you, senator. I have to go. The robot valet just tossed me the keys to my flying car.





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