COL Bush shows contempt

World gamesmanship trifles with fate of family farmers

A few weeks after signing the 10-year, $190 billion farm bill, the Bush administration last week put forward a plan to slash subsidies worldwide in pursuit of a major trade deal.

The White House is either schizophrenic or playing a dangerous political game with the financial fate of family farmers. Either way, it's the height of foolishness for the Bush administration to hold farm policy in such contempt. It is more than somewhat amazing that several commodity groups and farm organizations rushed to praise the proposal.

The reasoning behind their support -- as always -- is that massive worldwide cuts in export subsidies and other supports will allow U.S. farmers to capture world markets. The proof of that is in the pudding, but for more than a decade there has been precious little pudding as all-out production and surpluses have stifled commodity prices.

The administration now vows to pursue a ban on export subsidies and significant reductions in domestic support provided to farmers to boost production.


The White House initiative would cap this support at 5 percent of a country's total farm output, a figure that the administration said would cut $100 billion from the current level of subsidies provided by the United States, the European Union and other wealthy countries. The administration also called for global tariffs on farm products to be cut from a worldwide average of 62 percent to an average of 15 percent in five years.

Political gamesmanship is behind this maneuver. The White House wants to harvest a few more badly needed congressional votes for its fast-track trade authorization bill. They are optimistic that Midwest lawmakers and others will vote for it now.

The fast-track trade legislation should stand or fall on its own merits, not be used in a rigged shell game. When will this White House realize that farm policy is far too important to be treated in this manner?

Probably never. It's a sin of commission that the White House shares with many former administrations. The Bush administration and Congress, for that matter, want to protect their sitting members from any political backlash this fall. That's why the $190 billion farm bill came into being in the first place.

Good or bad, the 2002 legislation is in the books. However, the ink is barely dry and already the White House seems intent on downsizing it as it pursues the misguided goal of worldwide agricultural domination. It's not only stupid, it's also wrong-headed.

What George Bush and Congress needs now more than ever is a vision for rural America -- its people and the land. Without a vision and leadership, agricultural policy will continue to be treated with contempt -- a pawn in a vicious political and economic war against Europe and against other alleged competitors.

The truth is, the White House never liked the 2002 farm bill. The president simply signed it to be done with what Congress itself considers an unpleasant task. Farmers and consumers should be offended that U.S. farm policy isn't treated with more respect than that.

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