If it looks like a legislative chicken, acts and sounds like a legislative chicken, then chances are good that it is a legislative chicken, no matter what other obscure name the nation's chief agriculturalist wants to give it.
Agriculture Secretary John R. Block and Congress are caught up in one of those time-honored games of legislative chicken and, although there's a lot of squawking, no one is blinking yet.
This game involves a referendum that Block has set for next month among the nation's wheat farmers to determine if they want to subject themselves to a strict production-control program next year.
Block, assuming that Congress will not complete work on a new farm bill any time soon, ordered the referendum under the permanent agricultural law that would govern should the current law expire before the new bill is passed.
In effect, Block is telling Congress that he's going ahead with the referendum, unless he gets a new farm bill pronto. And the lawmakers are just as certain they won't have a new bill ready soon.
In a recent interview, Block denied he was playing a game of chicken, but at the same time he said he was not going to get stuck with the blame if there was no new farm bill and he -- probably illegally -- had failed to carry out the referendum required by the old law.
Congress is striving mightily to get him off that hook, but Block won't even take the bait. The House passed a bill directing him to postpone the vote and the Senate Agriculture Committee passed another version, allowing him to postpone it, but the secretary said he won't play ball.
Wheat-state legislators, led by Sen. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.) and Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), complain that the red tape and cost of a referendum would be enormous and that it would not mean much anyway. Many farmers who went into wheat production since the last allotments were calculated about 10 years ago would not have a voice in the vote, they note.
SEEING ORANGE . . . For months, one of the great sho ving matches over federal regulation has involved orange growers. Most of the shoving is being done by Carl A. Pescosolido Jr., a citrus grower from Exeter, Calif., who contends that federal marketing orders wrongfully prevent him from selling all his oranges and taking the risks he wants as a farmer.
Pescosolido last month filed a new suit against USDA, charging that the grower committees that control the weekly marketing of navel and Valencia oranges are set up illegally. He argues that his company and other California-Arizona independents have no voice in setting marketing policy.
Now, according to sources, members of the Sunkist growers cooperative, which dominates the marketing committees and regulates the flow of fruit to consumers, are knocking on Capitol Hill doors, seeking legislation that would cut off Pescosolido at the pass.
MOVING RIGHT ALONG . . . David Crow, who helped push the administration's viewpoint during the 1981 farm bill debate, is back in the official fold. He left in 1982 for a real estate job in Texas, but has returned to work in governmental and public affairs at USDA . . . . C. Wayne Mayfield, controversial director of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service in Texas, wants to come to the Big Top. Sources say he has applied for an ASCS appointment here. Mayfield was suspended from his Texas job for 30 days in April after an investigation of charges of sexual harassment and misuse of a government vehicle, among other things.