‘Monsanto Protection Act’ undermines legislative process


Memo to selves: When editorializing in favor of greater cooperation among Democrats and Republicans, be careful. And be specific.

It turns out that politicians from different parties can agree on a lot of things, as long as they can do it in secret and there is special interest money and home-state political interests behind them.

Case in Point: House Resolution 933, a 587-page emergency spending bill passed to fund government operations through September and avert a government shutdown. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 28.

As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said when he was Obama’s chief of staff, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Since HR 933 had to pass, it got larded up with a lot of special interest deals, including Section 735, a sleazy bit of business nicknamed the “Monsanto Rider” or the “Monsanto Protection Act.”

Section 735 appeared mysteriously — without benefit of debate — while the House bill was under review by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It orders the Department of Agriculture to ignore any federal court decisions that would block use of USDA-approved seed containing genetically modified organisms.

The upshot is that GMO corn and soybean seed — most of it Monsanto seed for crops resistant to Monsanto’s Round-up herbicide — already in the ground can stay in the ground, no matter what any court might say.

The language relieves Creve Coeur, Mo.-based Monsanto and a handful of other seed and fertilizer companies of a great deal of risk. The relief will last for only six months, or until the next funding crisis creates different language. But it’s an important precedent, unless a court rules the language an unconstitutional usurpation of judicial review, which it well may be.

After a few days of anonymity, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., admitted he was responsible for the mysterious appearance of the Monsanto Rider. As a senator from Monsanto’s home state, a recipient of $108,000 in Monsanto campaign donations since 2010 and as a lawmaker with a long record of using legislative tricks to benefit special interests, he should have been Suspect No. 1.

Who can forget Blunt’s “bootleg tobacco helps terrorists” defense of 2002? In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a bill creating the Department of Homeland Security. Blunt, then a top House leader, tried to sneak an amendment into the bill that would have cracked down on Internet- and black-market tobacco sales. “It’s a serious homeland security issue,” he insisted when he was found out. At the time, he was dating a top tobacco company lobbyist, whom he later married.

The next year Blunt tried to persuade then-Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to secretly amend a $79 billion Iraq war-funding bill to benefit FedEx and UPS. So, having tried to mess with the Homeland Security bill and Iraq War funding, the Monsanto Protection Act probably didn’t seem like a big deal.

Besides, as we noted above, HR 933 was a bipartisan special interest effort. The bill also took money away from a school breakfast program to ensure that fewer meat inspectors would be laid off because of federal budget cuts. This assures big poultry operations, like Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, that while a few children may have to skip breakfast, their business will not suffer unduly from budget cuts.

By sheer coincidence, Tyson is headquartered in Arkansas, the home state of Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, chairman of the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee. The new chairman of the full appropriations committee is Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland. Guess which state Perdue Farms calls home?

Blunt is a conservative Republican. Pryor is a moderate Democrat. Mikulski is a liberal Democrat. Sometimes bipartisanship isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

In a way, none of this is a big deal — the Monsanto Rider may be thrown out, and even it’s not, it will have to be revisited later this year.

But it is a big deal. Damn the committee hearings. Damn political philosophy. Damn the public interest. Damn the constitution. Use the funding crisis to take care of the donors. Do the deals in the seams, and if at all possible, do it in secret.

The latest Gallup Poll says 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job. That seems a little high.