Farmer John Doubles Down

I don't usually do sequels to blogs, but events have moved rapidly since my first blog on Speaker John Boehner's injecting himself into California water policy. For one thing, it's raining here, so the worst drought in the state's history may become just a severe drought. And Californians are behaving like rural villagers in India, welcoming rain not as bad weather but as a blessing, and gray as the color not of tears but of happiness.

But that hasn't stopped Boehner from summoning his caucus to pass the astonishingly bold-faced water grab by San Joaquin Valley Republicans which would massively redistribute the state's water in the favor of Republican farming districts to the disadvantage of the (largely Democratic) rest of the state. The House passed the bill Wednesday on a party line vote, 229-191.

In theory of course, House Republicans want to keep the federal government from intruding into the proper realm of states -- that's their core guiding principal, we are told. But this bill, which is opposed by a wide swathe of Western governors, overrides state law in a number of critical areas, and undoes the historic understandings of which water users are entitled to priority in a drought. It's about as big a federal power grab as you can conceive of -- and has been scathingly denounced by House Democrats from agricultural districts that would lose water, like John Garamendi as "a theft of water from someone to give to somebody else, plain and simple."

Imagine that in their final terms in Congress, Henry Waxman and George Miller were to introduce federal legislation pre-empting California water law and requiring the state to end the overdraft of groundwater reserves, on the valid grounds that is seriously threatening the long term viability of the entire U.S. economy -- because California is such a large part of what drives prosperity for the whole country. "A yell to rend the firmament" would explode from conservative circles in Washington at this egregious Congressional water-theft and power grab.

This bill is not going to pass -- the House put it through once before, and it died in the Senate. The White House has already threatened a veto. But the question it raises is why is no one in the media calling Boehner on his hypocrisy? Here is a Speaker who dithered for three years to get a national farm bill on the House calendar, now says he won't be able to get immigration reform done in 2014, but he can ramrod through a piece of legislation that violates every principal he and his caucus stand for -- except partisan payoffs.

It certainly looks like the national political media have internalized the fact that the House Republicans play by their own set of rules, and therefore shouldn't -- unlike Chris Christie, or the Democrats -- be held accountable for blatant thuggery.

Boehner thinks this move will help his caucus in San Joaquin Valley districts in 2014, and he may well be right. But longer term, he is driving even more deeply into the California political landscape the identification of the Republican party with a narrow set of economic interests -- the least fertile, most heavily subsidy dependent farmers and the oil industry.

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope spent the last 18 years of his career at the Sierra Club as CEO and chairman. He's now the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber --of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which the New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."