Agriculture Leads By Example in Debt Debate

November 8, 2011

The nation’s capital has become synonymous with gridlock—and not just because it is home to one of the worst commutes in the country.

With elections looming and elected leaders from both sides of the aisle dug in, Congress and the Administration have put the brakes on nearly everything.  But a debt reduction bill crafted by the super committee has to pass by Christmas to avoid further uncertainty in the financial markets and a difficult sequestration process.

To get it done, the Hill needs a shot of bipartisan leadership, and it needs the expertise of the committees of jurisdiction.

Agriculture—just like in the past—is leading by example as Republican and Democratic leaders from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees put the finishing touches on a plan for the members of the debt reduction panel to cut yet another $23 billion out of farm policies.

This is on top of the more than $15 billion already sacrificed by agriculture in recent years, making farm policy among the only areas of the budget to actually take a hit.

Considering farm policy has routinely come in under budget since 2002; considering farm policy accounts for just one-quarter of 1 percent of federal funding; and considering the Simpson-Bowles panel recommended $10 billion in cuts to U.S. farm policy, it could be argued that the agreed-to $23 billion cut is disproportionate.

But, in order to achieve these stark cuts (roughly 25 percent of the already diminished agriculture budget) without rendering farmers and ranchers helpless the next time Mother Nature strikes or markets collapse due to foreign subsidies and trade manipulation, the Agriculture Committee leaders have been working to craft bipartisan legislation to meet deficit reduction goals and salvage some portion of farm policy.

The difficulty and importance of their work cannot be overstated.  Small words in statute have tremendous impact on our economy and the country’s food and fiber supply, which is why the committees that best know this area of the law are tackling this task.

Predictably, some moneyed special interest groups from the fringes have been hypercritical and nit picking of a process that will ensure stable food and fiber supplies for the nation.  Killing farm policy altogether—not cutting and reforming—is their aim, and they seem disappointed that the spirit of compromise isn’t creating a venue suited for their extreme views.

Hopefully, the sacrifices agriculture is making will provide a needed spark and encourage others to ante up as well—and if it does, agriculture should be lauded as a catalyst and a model of fiscal responsibility and how to get things done right.