The circus comes to town

As has been noted here before, most journalists get into the writing game because they cannot do math. I don’t mean the hard stuff like differential equations; I mean the incredibly hard stuff like subtraction and division.

Math-challenged as we ink blots might be, we are Nobel Laureates compared to the sausage grinders on Capitol Hill. We may not know the square root of 36 (seriously) but we do know that 390 is not equal to 61 and, more stunning, we know that $390 billion is not $61 billion.

Our editors are even smarter. For example, if an earnest journalist wrote the $61 billion in cuts to this year’s federal spending approved by the House of Representatives Feb. 18 paid for the $390 billion in 2011 tax cuts passed by Congress last December, an editor would shake his or her head and mutter, “Idiot, you can’t put $390 billion in tax cuts in a $61 billion bag.” Metaphorically speaking, that is.

Puzzle

So if editors know this, why doesn’t a majority of members in the House of Representatives know this? Hmm, most members of Congress are journalists? Maybe the answer can be found if the question is posed differently, say, upside down.

OK, so the House’s 147 roll call votes on almost 200 amendments to the continuing resolution to fund the government past March 4 cut 9.2 percent of all non-defense discretionary spending from the current fiscal year. And even I know that 9.2 percent ain’t nothing to sneeze at.

But here’s the rub: last December’s tax cut adds 36 percent more debt to the FY 2011 federal budget deficit. On top of that new pile this year, the tax bill then shoveled on an additional $407 billion to FY 2012 and $120 billion to FY 2013.

That means the tax cut will add — and check my addition here — at least $917 billion to today’s Everest of national debt. Given that fact — that the Christmas tax cut added 57 times more debt to the federal budget than the House’s proposed $61 billion in cuts Feb. 18 — why is the House action viewed as anything other than a circus act?

Reason

Because these folks say they are serious, that’s why. Serious enough, anyway, to approve massive cuts to current U.S. Department of Agriculture spending. Under the House-approved plan, the Agricultural Research Service takes a 14.8 percent hit, the National Institute for Food and Agriculture a 16.1 percent smack, the Farm Service Agency, the local faces behind farm program administration, a 15.2 percent crack and the Ag Marketing Service a 33.1 percent slap.

Indeed, USDA was ticketed for $5.21 billion of the $61 billion (that’s division; you do the math) in cuts in the House budget plan; wholesale blows, one Congressional watcher correctly notes that “will paralyze USDA management rather than make it more efficient.”

Response

As House budgeteers were swinging their hatchets, more than 30 of the biggest, loudest farm groups sent a letter to House appropriators to note their “concern that agriculture is … absorbing a disproportionate amount of the cuts.”

Concerned? Wow. If current ag leaders can’t get their budget fever above “concerned” in challenging the incredibly foolish, incredibly upside-down math now running the federal budget process, what are they going to do in 2012 when they must get a farm bill out of a Congress facing bigger deficit problems and a bigger circus, an election year?

Doesn’t add up

Gee, even a math mutt like me knows you can’t put $390 billion — let alone $970 billion — in tax cuts in a $61 billion bag and expect to pull out anything but utter disaster.

Holy cow, I think I might be an editor.

(The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.)

2011 ag comm

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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