Farm and Food File: One + one is still two (except in D.C.)


Mathematics is a nearly pure science. Nearly in that while one plus one always equals two, politicians often make $1 plus $1 equal $1 so they can then spend a third dollar to get to $2. In fact, politicians are so good at the muddled math of their budget game that they can turn the equation upside down and make it work in reverse: $1 of budget savings today can be legislated into $2 of tax cuts tomorrow.

More debt

Both versions of this math are again in play. For example, under the White House 2012 budget plan, $4 trillion of budget cuts in the coming decade actually means the federal deficit will grow from today’s $14.3 trillion to $27.6 trillion over that 10 years.

How does $4 trillion in cuts add $13 trillion to the deficit?

Beats me, but the alternative Republican plan shows Democrats aren’t the only financial alchemists in Washington. Indeed, the recently passed 2012 House budget, named after its author, Rep. Paul Ryan who chairs that chamber’s budget committee, cuts $6.2 trillion from federal spending in the next 10 years.

The slash, Ryan claims, “puts the budget on a path to balance in the years ahead.”

He must mean light years ahead because an analysis of the plan by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows its trillions in cuts will still add trillions in debt in the coming decade: $14.3 trillion today, $23.1 trillion in 2021.

In short, the White House and Capitol Hill are now engaged in a budget debate that could be described as a fight to “Take my $13 trillion in new debt” versus “No, take my $9 trillion in new debt.”

Third plan

A third plan from the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Six,” three penny-pinching Repubs and three green eyeshade Dems, looks to split the difference, say insiders, by offering a 10-year budget that will raise taxes $1 for every $3 cut in spending.

Want to bet that their math won’t increase overall debt, too? Me neither.

Had surplus

Perhaps worse than all this number cooking is that just a decade ago the 2001 federal budget had the nation on a clear path to a $2 trillion surplus that was enough to pay off the entire federal deficit by 2010.

Now, after a decade of tax cuts (which, the CBO figures, contributed $6.3 trillion of the $12.7 trillion in new debt since 2001 because spending continued), war without taxes to pay for it (about $1.3 trillion in new debt), and economic recessions that slashed tax revenue, we are neck deep in hot soup instead of lounging comfortably in cool clover. That has cost farmers and ranchers.

In the endless wrangling that finally produced a 2011 federal budget, the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw its budget sliced by $3 billion. Soil and water conservation efforts alone lost more than $500 million in funding.

The numbers look worse for the 2012 budget. The Ryan plan cuts USDA’s biggest line item, food stamps, by $127 billion over 10 years; slices $30 billion from farm program and crop insurance programs and, according to numbers compiled by the National Sustainable Ag Coalition, drains about $18 billion from “government-wide environmental spending” — including even more cuts to USDA conservation programs.

Ag cuts

Ranking Ag committee member Collin Peterson put his accountant’s mechanical pencil to the Ryan plan. He calculates the ag committee takes a 23 percent cut in funding under it while all other House committees get shorted 14 percent.

That pummeling, he suggests, will “make it nearly impossible for the agriculture committee to write a new farm bill” in 2012.

A 2012 farm bill relies on Congress and the White House working together to write a fair and responsible budget.

Fair and responsible starts with one plus one equaling two.

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

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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.



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