Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 25 October 2011 17:46
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the Super Committee, as it is widely known, has until Nov. 23 to make its final decisions as to what items will face budget cuts.
This committee exists because of Congress’s inability to set aside partisan politics, lacking the courage to face each other to actually do the work they were elected to do.
Though few legislators would argue for an increase in deficit spending in a time when our nation’s credit rating has been lowered from its stellar position, thanks to the multi-trillion dollar debt load, opinions on how we should return to fiscal integrity varies widely.
On one hand, some politicians argue for an increase in government spending as a way to grow our way out of the current recession. Others, like President Obama, couple this with an increase in taxes on our most wealthy citizens.
Some politicians want to cut spending in a fair and equitable manner while others are intent on cutting certain programs, or eliminating them entirely, without regard to the economic impact or its impact on the social welfare of the nation.
Agriculture is one industry that’s become the “whipping boy” of radical legislators in the House who favor a “slash and burn” approach to fixing the problem. They see current high commodity prices as reason enough to abandon agriculture programs entirely. This includes programs designed as a safety net to minimize, at best, adverse years of drought, abnormal weather or extremely low prices.
As an ironic side note: Radical conservatives and liberal environmental activists find themselves in bed together, working for the same thing, even though they have very different objectives in mind. One wants to slash and burn while the other wants to move the money to other pet programs.
What the radical legislators fail to see is reality and the consequences of slash and burn. They forget that for farmers to be able to benefit from high prices, one must have production before any revenue is realized.
The ongoing drought plaguing the midwestern region of the U.S. is not even on their radar screen. Even with farm programs currently in place, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas alone have absorbed $9 billion in crop and livestock losses. Other states, such as Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, have lost billions more as a result of flooding and other weather-related events.
Without an adequate safety net of direct payments and crop insurance, thousands of farms would face financial liquidation, not to mention increasing financial hardships of the entire infrastructure of the rural, ag-based economy.
The solution for eliminating the budget deficit may well include reducing costs in all federal expenditures. However, common sense and a proper perspective are needed when such decisions are considered.
Agriculture’s portion of the federal budget makes up less than one-half of 1 percent. Of that portion, only about 19 percent goes for commodity programs, crop insurance and conservation. The balance goes towards nutrition programs.
One cannot, even in our wildest dreams, balance the budget, even by eliminating the entire agricultural portion of the USDA budget. It is mathematically impossible.
While Senate and House ag committees have agreed cut $23 billion in the current round of proposed cuts, defense reportedly is slated for a mere $400 million dollar reduction. Defense’s spending for fiscal year 2010 consumed 20 percent of the total federal budget, so that’s hardly a fair and equitable reduction. That’s like giving a shaggy dog a trim around one eye and calling it a haircut.
Even Sen. Pat Roberts, an ex-Marine and staunch patriot, concedes he can find plenty of ways to cut the defense budget without impairing our military readiness, yet there’s little desire by Congress as a whole to make more than a token effort at this juncture in the process.
Agriculture has already taken a $12 billion hit over the past two fiscal years as politicians played musical chairs with the taxpayers’ money. The cuts were allegedly promoted as a way to reduce federal spending, but in reality, they were reallocated to other programs.
If agriculture absorbs another $23 billion in cuts without corresponding cuts in other programs, we might as well throw in the towel and begin preparations for an extended financial nightmare that nobody wants.
It’s time we call for common sense and bipartisanship in coming up with a workable plan of action. Rather than saying “no” to everything, regardless of one’s political persuasion, it is time to sit down at the bargaining table and make serious efforts to bring an agreement to a satisfactory conclusion.