Of the many talents Americans — and especially American politicians — have acquired in the last 25 years, coupling fact with fiction to create baloney might be the most creative.
For example, in 1996 the Republican-led Congress created Freedom to Farm, that year’s farm bill, to decouple farm programs from set-asides, a grain reserve, taxpayer costs and, in the end, reality.
In fact, over the ensuing five years, F2F cost taxpayers an average $17.2 billion per year in direct government payments, or nearly twice the $9.2 billion in annual program payments of the previous farm bill.
The gigantic goof-up wouldn’t have been so bad had the legislation actually delivered what it promised — higher, market-derived income for U.S. farmers and ranchers.
Instead, net farm income over the life of F2F averaged $48.5 billion per year, barely a bump over the $48 billion average of its antecedent.
Remember, too, that $17.2 billion of it, or more than one-third, came from taxpayers.
Clearly, F2F was a policy bust. When you remind its backers of these simple facts, however, few on Capitol Hill and even fewer in farm country admit it.
Most speak fondly of the “sweeping change” the ’96 law brought to agriculture.
That’s baloney, of course. The biggest change F2F delivered was the institutionalization of massive government payments: it delivered $86 billion in program payments in five years; the more-bipartisan 2002 farm bill then delivered $93.4 billion in the subsequent six.
In short, farm lobbyists and their eager pupils in Washington transformed farm programs from a lean-times, price support mechanism into, virtually, an anytime entitlement program, just like Food Stamps or Medicare.
For proof, look again at the 2002 farm bill: Annual farm program payments averaged $15.6 billion despite the fattest, best net farm income run — $76.6 billion per year — in the history of America.
More confirming evidence is found in the 2008 farm bill. Only the Lord — and I mean that in a most respectful way — knows what the 2008 law and its central component ACRE, or Average Crop Revenue Election, will cost should market prices (due to, oh, I don’t know, a global recession?) collapse.
One highly-placed source, in an off-the-record interview, explained the process that led farm bill writers to peg ACRE’s 10-year cost at budget neutral, a key element in the Dems promise that the farm bill would meet their “pay-go” test of no new spending.
The estimators, related the insider, took several cracks at calculating ACRE’s potential cost.
Initial attempts arrived at figures that didn’t “fit” Congressional needs — budget-speak for too costly. The estimators were sent back to their windowless cubicles and told to use sharper pencils.
The new pencils must have done the trick because the group emerged and ACRE’s estimated cost neatly, miraculously even, fell in line with the number Congressional leaders needed to make the untested program the centerpiece of the 2008 law.
Funny how that works, eh?
Even funnier is if your local butcher put his greasy thumb on the scale in such clumsy manner you’d slap him with your checkbook. Congress does it, however, and you hand it your checkbook.
All this comes to mind after listening to the collective fury farm bill biggies — nearly every farm group leader and all key House and Senate aggies — directed at President Obama when he had the nerve to suggest farm program eligibility, like that of Medicare and Food Stamps, should be tightened. Drop dead, the farm boys told him.
Perhaps that’s not so much an admonition as a prediction because if the best among us, farmers and ranchers, can’t lighten their touch on the public purse in these critical times, we’re all dead.