“She got the gold mine — I got the shaft,” the bit of country music doggerel by Jerry Reed, is somewhat reflective of the situation American farmers, and particularly those growing Sunbelt crops, find themselves in with the Bush administration and its death-by-a-thousand-cuts funding for agriculture programs.
There is no little irony that farmers and agribusiness were among his staunchest supporters in both presidential elections, and have continued strongly in his corner, yet agriculture has taken one hit after another at the hands of his administration and the Congress his party controls.
In the posturing surrounding the budget reconciliation process that resulted in the delivery last week of a record-setting $2.77 trillion budget (in the face of record deficits), farmers, the elderly, poor kids, college students, and others were told they'd have to suck it up and accept cuts in government programs in order to help offset open-ended spending on the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, unforeseen expenditures for several major hurricanes (which aren't even included in the budget), and literally thousands of “earmark” expenditures by members of Congress siphoning billions of dollars for pork projects in their districts.
(“Earmark” may sound less offensive to the taxpayer than “pork,” but either way the number of projects has risen nearly 1,500 percent over the last decade.)
Treasury Secretary John Snow, ever the consummate team player, told the Senate Finance Committee (presumably with a straight face), “This budget represents the president's dedication to fiscal discipline, an efficient federal government, and the continuation of a thriving U.S. economy.”
The budget for fiscal 2007, beginning Oct. 1, includes massive spending increases for the military and homeland security sectors, while the biggest cuts are in agriculture (read farm programs), transportation (read highways/infrastructure), and justice (read local law enforcement).
Over the next five years, $5 billion would be lopped from farm programs, nearly $5 billion from children's Medicaid benefits, and $12 billion from student loan programs. The budget is also predicated on extending the Bush first-term tax cuts past their scheduled 2010 expiration date, at an estimated cost of more than $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years.
Dozens of farm groups, in a show of solidarity to the president and his “tough love” approach to spending, let it be known they would be willing to accept cuts in some farm programs, provided the cuts were in proportion to those made in other federal departments.
They were taken up on their offer — in spades.
“Spending on commodity and conservation agriculture programs accounts for less than 1.5 percent of total mandatory spending,” noted National Cotton Council Chairman Woods Eastland, “yet commodity programs are being asked to shoulder more than 8 percent of the required reductions.”
Said National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson: “This policy places a disproportionate burden on our nation's food and fiber producers, while providing more tax cuts to the nation's wealthy.”
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., noting that foreign farmers are subsidized at a rate four times higher than U.S. growers, said further cuts will undercut American growers' competitiveness in the global marketplace.
“President Bush,” she declared, “has shown the nation that Southern farmers are not a priority.”