This is dumb. Astonishingly, breathtakingly dumb.
Thanks to Congress's failure to pass a new version of the farm bill, the last edition of which officially expired on September 30, American consumers are about to see the price of milk at the grocery store to skyrocket in the new year. It might even double to around $6 or $7 a gallon. That is, unless our elected officials defy their recent track record and manage to legislate a fix before January 1.
The media has predictably dubbed this debacle "the dairy cliff." It's cheeky. It's even sort of apt, in that it evokes a mindless herd of cattle falling into a canyon somewhere. How better to describe our politics at this point? But jokey nickname aside, this is a fairly serious situation. The price of milk, after all, isn't just the price of milk. It influences the cost of every dairy product made in the United States -- whether it's the cheese that Dominoes throws on its pizza, the butter used in bakeries, or, yes, the cartons milk public schools buy for lunch trays.
So how'd we get here? Ordinarily, Congress passes the farm bill, which governs everything from nutrition programs like food stamps, to disaster assistance for farmers, to agricultural subsidies, on a temporary, five-year basis. If it expires, as it did this year, we eventually revert back to the law as it existed in 1949, which was the last time a permanent farm bill was passed. And therein lies the problem.