Where is ag on Bush’s priorities?

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One day recently, the morning TV news carried two headlines that made me stop in my tracks.
Condoleeza Rice was appealing for several billion dollars in aid to be sent to Tunisia, and about quadruple that billion dollar amount to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The very next headline was that U.S. farmers were soon to be told of proposed cuts in farm subsidies and other agriculture programs, as President Bush seeks to shave farm spending by $5.7 billion over the next decade.
A couple of days passed. I kept thinking that perhaps I had heard that wrong.
Betrayed? The headline on the front page of our local paper a few days later confirmed that I had heard correctly. “Farmers upset with Bush’s ag budget cuts” was the tagline above the Associated Press article in the Ashland Times-Gazette.
Farmers in battleground states who campaigned for Bush’s re-election were quoted as saying they feel somewhat betrayed by proposed cuts in farm subsidies and agriculture programs.
As small business owners, farmers understand clearly the need to balance the budget. But, with billions upon billions proposed to be sent overseas, is the balancing of the budget truly a realistic goal?
Bigger hit. And why have farmers taken a bigger hit than other federal spending programs?
The president has proposed an across-the-board cut of 5 percent for all farm payments and lowering the cap on agricultural subsidies. These substantial cuts would total $2.5 billion, more than reductions in health, housing and law enforcement.
Defense. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, former governor of Nebraska, defends the cuts.
His statements on the matter imply that most of the money was going to large agribusiness corporations rather than small family farms. He also said that all of agriculture must help all of government cut the deficit, which is projected to reach $427 billion this year.
There really was very little talk about agriculture during the presidential campaign, and Bush never mentioned cutting farm payments. It would not have been politically prudent to have done so.
Some Ohio farmers who campaigned for Bush feel stung by this latest announcement.
House floor. Regardless of how any individual feels about this latest turn of events, the debate among Republicans on the House floor is heating up.
Illinois Republican House Rep. Ray LaHood said, “Farmers work hard and they play by the rules that are given to them by the Congress. Now, all of a sudden the payment structure that we put in the 2002 farm bill is not going to be there.”
Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson, whose district will be impacted due to its high number of cotton and rice growers, said the cotton industry estimates that income could drop by 10 percent for smaller farms and by 23 percent for farms of 1,000 acres.
She predicts most will not be able to continue due to the fact that they are operating on such a thin margin.
I tuned in to the debate on cable TV, and foes of the cuts continued to point out that the 2002 farm law doesn’t expire for another two years. Almost all who spoke up were Republican representatives.
Bush is expected to face opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate, as well. Stay tuned.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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