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The federal budget and farm policy

What’s the connection?

By Reece Langley
VP, Government Affairs
USA Rice Federation
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T he United States government has a debt problem. The exploding deficit was one of the factors in the Republican victories in the recent midterm elections. But, there’s little appetite on either side of the aisle for making drastic cuts in federal spending that would negatively affect such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, de-fense and veteran’s spending. Those programs, along with interest paid on the debt, are about 86 percent of the federal budget.

In mid-November, an Obama administration deficit commission draft report recommended massive cuts in spending to affect many federal programs. The commission meets in early December to reach consensus, or not, on whether to put forward a formal proposal on how to tackle the problem. But with a Republican majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s unlikely any significant progress will occur in the next Congress.

So, what’s the answer? Based on media reports, it may be to balance the budget by cutting policies that are fiscally responsible, under budget and working as designed by Congress — such as farm policy. But, it’s hard to imagine that these programs, which constitute less than one-quarter of one percent of the budget and less than 16 percent of the USDA budget, would have much affect on the deficit. Yet, in true Washington, D.C., style, farm programs are made the poster child for unnecessary federal spending. Further weakening of the farm safety net is not the political freebie that some people may think.

Although farm safety net programs have been singled out for cuts three times in the past six years, they are among the few programs that have come in under budget and decreased in size. More importantly, the contributions of agriculture to the economy and to American food security are significant considerations.

Severe Crisis In Farm Country

Few people know that the current farm safety net is not equipped to deal with a severe economic crisis in farm country. Despite efforts of congressional champions on both sides, farm policy programs have been cut until they’re threadbare. As is the case with the current economic/fiscal situation, it may take a severe crisis in farm country to fix the problem.

The American people have a very favorable opinion about those who produce our food and fiber, and the public is strongly against shifting our reliance for these essentials to heavily subsidized and protected foreign competitors. And, agriculture is vital to the nation’s economy.

With the help of strong friends in Congress on both sides of the aisle, our education efforts and a politically divided Wash-ington, D.C., the farm safety net might catch a break from the string of cuts it’s been dealt. But, if you hear politicians say we need to get serious about deficit reduction by cutting the farm safety net, ask them who they think they’re kidding.

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