The country can’t afford farm programs like before, or can it?

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Since early spring, Republican aggies in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have warned their farm and ranch constituents that farm program spending will be cut $3 billion over five years, beginning with the 2006 federal budget.
How did they arrive at that amount and timetable?
Simple – they pulled both figures out of thin air early in the 2006 budget process when party bosses designed, then pushed, a budget “reconciliation” bill through Congress that mandated both.
That reconciliation bill – a cherished leadership device to short-circuit troublesome Congressional hearings, public debate and recorded votes – however, hid the true prize sought by the White House and GOP party leaders: a two-year extension on two, fat-cat tax cuts due to expire in 2008.
The collective value of the tax breaks is pegged at $70 billion, or twice the size of the budget cuts Republicans bragged were needed to bring federal spending back in line.
How can a fast-track budget bill that contains both $35 billion in spending cuts and $70 billion in tax breaks over the next five years be sold as fiscal conservatism?
The strategy. Easy. You travel the country (on the taxpayer tab) to speechify from flag-draped stages (where you begin and end by invoking God’s blessing on the nation) and then you lie.
You lie by saying the nation cannot afford $3 billion more in ag spending from 2006 through 2010 while knowing that 23 or 24 times that amount will flow back to the wealthiest of Americans in tax cuts during the same period.
You lie by not breathing a word that the two tax goodies contained in the reconciliation bill will extend previous tax breaks – one cutting capital gains taxes, the other cutting taxes on dividends – that you previously agreed would end in 2008.
You lie by not hinting that $37.1 billion of the $70 billion tax cut, or 53 percent, will flow to the 0.2 percent of Americans who earn $1 million or more per year.
You lie by somehow overlooking that 78 percent of the two tax favors, or $54.6 billion, will be pocketed by the 3.3 percent of U.S. households that earn at least $200,000 per year.
Responsibility. You lie and you lie over and over – from California to Iowa to Pennsylvania – that much of the 2007 Farm Bill debate will center on farmers and ranchers “doing their share” to cut the fat budget deficits the nation is due to suffer in the coming decade.
Almost pathologically, however, you skate past any assessment of who’s responsible for flipping a projected $5.6 trillion, 10-year federal budget surplus you inherited when you took office into a farm program-busting, Food Stamp-cutting, Medicare-snipping, grandchildren-cracking $2.47 trillion, 10-year budget deficit.
That’s how you do it: You artfully deceive a blissfully misinformed nation that the medicine now needed is a large dose of spending cuts while you quietly slip the country’s best-off two more spoonfuls of sugar.
Determination. And then, as the nation reels under the twin effects of massive pork barrel spending and a projected rebuilding tab of more than $200 billion for two “unbudgeted” hurricanes, you maintain that the scandalous reconciliation bill – with its scandalous, deficit-ballooning tax breaks – is still the best way for the nation to resolve its upcoming budget woes.
Worse, when the nation finally gets a whiff of the budgetary rot exposed by Katrina’s stripping winds and Rita’s battering rains, the red meat wing of your own party publishes a budget blueprint (http://johnshadegg.house.gov/rsc/RSC_Budget_Options_2005.pdf) that proposes even more farm spending cuts without any scent of rescinding current or future tax cuts.
Sneaky little spending cuts like “Reduce Farm Payment Acreage by 1 percent: … Significant savings could be achieved proportionally by using 84 percent instead of 85 percent of acreage in the payment formula without adversely affecting producers of a specific commodity. Savings: $941 million over ten years ($452 million over five years).”
Hope. And then, as the budget-cutting, fat-cat-enhancing budget parade continues on to its predetermined end, you hope that no innocent, math-inclined kid along the route points out you are naked as a jay bird.

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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