Farm-aid fleecing wrapped in flag

October 16, 2001|By Tim Baker

IN THIS hour of national crisis, America's true-blue farmers have stepped forward to defend our country from terrorism and economic collapse. To help preserve our way of life, their lobbyists and allies in Congress are pushing the Farm Security Act. That's what they renamed the agricultural subsidy bill after Sept. 11.

The House passed the legislation 291-120 Oct. 5. It budgets $170 billion for farm subsidies over the next 10 years - a $73 billion increase in payments to farmers and other agricultural interests.

This bill "strengthens America's national security," proclaim its advocates. It will "keep America strong."

Fear not! Our nation won't lose its vital peanut crop, for example, because the peanut farmers will get $3.5 billion in new and additional cash payments. Hog farmers, $1 billion more. Even horse breeders will get new government loans. So don't worry. The U.S. cavalry will charge again.

The bill's most heroic supporters have been the subsidy system's biggest traditional beneficiaries - the growers of staple crops such as wheat, corn, cotton, rice, sugar, and peanuts. They are willing to help get the country moving again by accepting a $50 billion increase in their pay over the next decade.

The biggest farmers are the most patriotic. To preserve our corporate family farms, the top 8 percent of all farmers will receive more than 50 percent of this federal largess, while the bottom 50 percent will receive only 13 percent of the money.

To keep America strong, farmers don't even have to put up with the production restrictions that have been used to justify agricultural supports since the New Deal. In 1996, the famous Freedom to Farm Act proclaimed the noble intention of weaning farmers off federal subsidies by allowing them to grow whatever they wanted. The goal of cutting subsidies lasted only a year. But the Farm Security Act will preserve our farmers' now hallowed "freedom to farm" - with $173 billion in support.

Who could doubt the patriotic merits of this legislation? President Bush, for one. He says the bill has the following defects: It doesn't help the neediest farmers, stimulates overproduction of crops that are already in surplus, undercuts his attempts to reduce foreign agricultural subsidies and increases federal spending in "a time of uncertainty."

Sen. Richard G. Lugar has sniped at the bill as well. He's the Senate Agriculture Committee's ranking minority member, a longtime agriculture supporter and a farmer himself. But the Indiana Republican found it "inconceivable" that Congress would consider this kind of bounty for farmers during a national emergency. "To imply somehow we need a farm bill in order to feed our troops, to defend our nation, is ridiculous," he said.

But surely these are crabbed and narrow-minded views of our national security. How could our republic ever survive without essentials like mohair, one of the subsidized products under this legislation?

Ask not why America needs to subsidize farmers at all. Instead, doesn't this bill inspire you to ask what you too can do for your country?

Tim Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Baltimore.

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