Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:52
In the classic musical, “Music Man,” con man Harold Hill tells naive townsfolk: “There’s trouble in River city!” Today, experienced observers, tea party supporters and even well respected, veteran politicians are saying, “There’s trouble in Washington, D.C..”
The level of trust in our federal government continues to decline. Democrats discover they have squandered their momentum following President Barak Obama’s election only 16 months ago.
A Democratic super majority no longer exists in the Senate, thanks to the anger of independent voters over the painfully slow economic recovery from a deep recession, and increasing distrust over Congress’ handling of the financial bailout of Wall Street investment bankers that were deemed too big to fail.
Amid the backdrop of that political drama, the wheels of government continue to move forward. The financial crisis deepens as federal deficit spending continues unabated. Social spending increases as unemployment rises. The war in Afghanistan continues as troop levels increase to mount a credible offensive against Islamic extremists.
In an effort to stem the tide of red ink, the Obama administration proposes a freeze in spending, not only for future programs but also freezing programs already passed by Congress and signed into law by the previous administration. Collinn Peterson, chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, says budget reconciliation is a near certainty if Congress is serious in cutting the federal budget.
For a narrower focus on the budgetary contribution from agriculture, the projected 2011 outlay for farm programs consumes only 17 percent of the Department of Agriculture budget. Nutrition and other social welfare programs consume 70 percent of the misnamed “agricultural” budget.
Even so, word from the Hill suggests agriculture funding will be a prime target of budget cuts, including crop insurance subsidies slated to be reduced by around $2 billion, while the social portion of the Department of Agriculture budget may actually increase.
As if that isn’t enough trouble looming on agriculture’s horizon, the EPA is preparing a host of regulatory actions that promise an uncertain future for agriculture in America. They have completed their endangerment finding and are preparing to implement regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, the EPA is preparing to move ahead with enforcement of the Clean Water Act in the Chesapeake Bay area watershed, requiring a minimum total maximum daily load of identified pollutants, including phosphate fertilizer, that can flow into the tributaries of that watershed.
According to projections, this may mandate a 30 percent to 70 percent reduction of phosphate fertilizer applications, whether it is applied on urban lawns or rural farmland, essentially endangering all agricultural production within that watershed.
Sources indicate that if EPA is successful with this project, it plans to implement similar regulations on the entire Mississippi River watershed, which encompasses much of the Midwestern region of the United States.
These examples are merely the tip of the regulatory iceberg, if you will. Air and other water-quality regulations are also in the works, limiting dust emissions (measured in microns) from agricultural activities as well as designating farm sprayers as point sources for pesticide and herbicide runoff.
As this column goes to press, I received an e-mail indicating the 6th Circuit Court ruled that application of a pesticide is a point source of pollution requiring a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
To date, legislative initiatives by conservative members of Congress to limit EPA’s authority by de-funding the department are hung up amid wrangling between political parties.
Trouble is indeed brewing in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than a tea party convention and a revolt at the polls to fix a problem that took decades to create, especially as the electorate grows increasingly impatient with both political parties and are disassociating themselves from either one.