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Editorial -- Congressional budget action is empty gesture

If hypocrisy were dollars, the federal budget would be at a record surplus. Congress, in its rush to get home for the holidays, finally got around to passing the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The legislation, which will reduce government spending by $40 billion over the next five years, is a mere drop in the bucket and amounts to nothing more than empty symbolism.

Its main usefulness is to allow senators and representatives to return home where they can brag about imposing fiscal discipline while continuing to ring up more spending on the federal credit card.

Politicians are also maneuvering to strike heroic poses as defenders of the downtrodden.

Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman is among them. Coleman, who earlier in the year did Minnesota's sugar beet producers wrong by negotiating an agreement requiring USDA to buy excess sugar imported under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, has proclaimed himself to be sugar beet growers' greatest defender.

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Coleman credits himself with leading the charge to eliminate a proposed $30 million reduction in funding for the sugar program.

"I can't signal out sugar growers for cuts,'' Coleman told reporters during a telephone conference last week.

Well, yes, he can. In fact, he did when he cut the CAFTA deal with the Bush White House back in June. The agreement mandates USDA to buy excess sugar that is imported from Central America and Mexico until 2007. USDA will do its part by either compensating exporting countries for not sending sugar here or by converting the sugar into ethanol.

Back then, Coleman's actions caused a fight with Rep. Collin Peterson, a conservative Minnesota Democrat who represents quite a few sugar beet producers.

Some say that Coleman's decision to restore the $40 billion to sugar producers was his way of paying back beet growers for his CAFTA move.

To be fair, Coleman is no bigger hypocrite than most other Washington officials. The senator also strongly supported the Milk Income Loss Contract program extension. He has been better for agriculture than many people expected when he was first elected. However, the senator needs to take less credit and admit that his earlier CAFTA action was either a huge mistake or blatant political maneuvering.

The overall budget shenanigans -- talk of tough cuts but no significant action -- highlights the need for creation of a viable third-party movement in the United States. There is remarkably little significant difference between Republicans and Democrats nationally. Both play the political game masterfully, but seem less than interested in doing what is best for the country. A viable third party movement would give voters a meaningful choice come election time.

An alternative would put pressure on Republicans and Democrats alike to better listen to the needs and concerns of voters.

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Americans need politicians who place public policy good over partisanship. Democrats and Republicans have shown no skill in doing that for quite some time.

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