People have joked for decades about the need for caution when the legislature is in session.

In fact, the famous phrase, “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” was written 147 years ago.

A recent Gallup Poll showed that 78 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress. And, if you subtract out the people who don’t have an opinion, only 17 percent approve.

The farm bill fiasco this summer is just one example of the ineptitude that has the public steamed.  

The version of the farm bill passed by the Senate included $23 billion in cuts to commodity, conservation and nutrition programs. Those cuts weren’t big enough for many conservative members of the House, so the bill failed in a House vote June 20 and then three weeks later the House passed a radically different version without any funding for food stamp and nutrition programs.

The irony is that by pretty much destroying any chances of the farm bill making it back through the Senate (and avoiding a presidential veto), the House conservatives may have out-smarted themselves because if no farm bill is passed, things will simply revert back to the status quo and there will be no cuts at all (including the $23 billion from the Senate).

Or, even worse, in the absence of a new farm bill and no extension of the old farm bill, dairy policy will revert back to a 1949 measure that serves as permanent law in these instances. If that happens, federal price supports for cheese, butter and powder will increase dramatically, creating uproar in supermarkets across the country because the price of milk could double. That, in turn, will hurt dairy consumption.

It should be clear by now that dairy policy is only a small part of a bigger drama unfolding in the House and the Senate.

At some point, you have to ask: Would it be better if the federal government stayed out of milk pricing and simply let the marketplace take over? This idea seems to be supported by a number of our readers who have commented on farm bill stories carried on our web site and online newsletter.

I still hold out hope for meaningful reform. I still feel that the Dairy Security Act provisions in the Senate version of the farm bill offer the best chance of reform, since they contain some forward-thinking concepts, including the importance of feed cost in the profit equation and the ability of farmers to insure themselves against unfavorable swings in the feed cost/milk price margin. (Unfortunately, many of those ideas have been overshadowed by a supply-management provision in the Dairy Security Act ― a provision that would hold farmers accountable and not “break the bank,” so to speak, when federal payouts are required. The American public, if it knew more about this, would certainly want that kind of accountability.)

Now, if we could get some more accountability out of an increasingly dysfunctional Congress...