My affair with the farm bill has been like some of my vaguely traumatic dating relationships.

There have been ups and downs, late nights spent eating junk food, days spent clearing my schedule (for nothing)… and the constant questions of where this thing would lead.

My first date with the farm bill was a field hearing two years ago. I was there for my job as a Capitol Hill reporter, and I’ll admit I wasn’t totally excited about it. The farm bill is not exactly sexy.

But the more time I spent with the farm bill, the more fascinating it became. Congress revisits the farm bill every five years, and it is a crucial moment for agriculture groups, environmentalists and hunger advocates.

More than half of farm bill spending goes to food stamps and nutrition programs. It has a bigger budget for conservation than the entire Fish and Wildlife Service. In total, the bill would spend nearly $300 billion over the next 5 years.

The farm bill is huge.

And like every good dysfunctional relationship, it took over my life.

First there were the hearings. Then the marathon all-night committee votes. When the House passed its bill last summer and the Senate followed in December, I thought our relationship would soon be over.

But no. Since then, I’ve spent months standing in hallways outside of closed-door meetings in the Capitol.

The farm bill is considered “must pass” legislation. But that has been a lot harder to do this year. Lawmakers have struggled to wedge a bigger bill into a lower dollar figure. They wrestled with spending levels, offsets and attempts to reform the decades-old crop subsidy system.

Every day I would stand with other reporters in the hallway outside their meetings. We’d hope for breaking news on a final agreement. Every day the report was: “we’re making progress.” This was like another way of saying “I care about you, but I am not ready to make a commitment yet.”

We’d be back in the hallway the next day. I put the rest of my life on hold. Several times it seemed like the farm bill was dead, the relationship was over. But then it would come crawling back.

Lawmakers have even messier relationships with the bill. Collin Peterson, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, was in his office working on the farm bill over Christmas. He’s in a band and has written two songs about the farm bill – sad country ballads, uncertain love songs.

After months of negotiations, he and other lawmakers finally brokered a deal last week. But President Bush has vowed to veto it. He’s just not that into it.

The bill faces a bellwether vote in the House on Wednesday, testing whether there is the two-thirds vote needed to override the veto. Otherwise, we’re back at square one. And for me, square one looks like the painted tiles in the hallway of the Capitol’s Brumidi cooridor.

Will this be the end of my back-and-forth uncertain relationship with the farm bill?

I’m making a farm bill breakup CD, just in case. It starts with Willie Nelson: “You were always on my mind.”

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