House farm bill to face scrutiny during days ahead

“In the context of the current state of the nation, consideration of large new financial commitments that do not require immediate action are not timely.”

This statement, released by the White House just prior to the U.S. House's approval of a new farm bill, should come as an affront to every farmer in America. In that same statement, which angered most farm-state lawmakers, the White House said the House bill would encourage continued over-production of crops and “benefit the nation's largest farms.”

The White House also says the House legislation “misses the opportunity to modernize the nation's farm programs” and insures that the farmers who least need the federal assistance continue to get most of the money. In addition, the statement urges lawmakers to shift money into conservation programs that reward farmers for improved environmental practices.

The White House statement makes clear where the battle lines have been drawn concerning a new farm bill. The House-approved bill, which most observers in the Southeast agree is good legislation for farmers, won't likely clear the U.S. Senate without significant changes. And, even then, it's subject to a presidential veto.

Now, back to that first statement. I know many farmers here in the Southeast who would disagree with the White House's assertion that the current farm crisis does not require “immediate action.” The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, which the Bush administration is using as a reason to delay action on the farm bill, should be all the more reason to move quickly on legislation that will help to secure the future of U.S. agriculture.

What this administration doesn't realize, and what millions of Americans fail to grasp, is that agriculture is a matter of national security — more so than oil, for which we always are quick to enter battle. Think, just for a moment, about the fate of any nation that fails to support its farmers, relying instead on imports to feed its people. Long lines at gas stations are nothing compared to the chaos that would ensue if groceries suddenly failed to appear on supermarket shelves.

So, what would this White House consider to be a financial commitment requiring “immediate action?” Well, in recent weeks Congress and the President have approved $40 billion for emergency reconstruction spending and $15 billion to help bail out airlines. As of this writing, they were considering another $60 billion in new tax cuts, including accelerating income tax cuts already enacted, repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax and accelerating depreciation.

Granted, funds are needed to help New York and Washington recover from the recent devastation. But you have to question the $15 billion airline bail-out, especially when many of the airlines collecting checks were in financial straits prior to Sept. 11. And, as for the tax cuts, they may well be needed to help stimulate this floundering economy. But, while the U.S. economy as a whole has been stalled since only about the middle of last year, the farm economy has been in trouble for the past four years, at least.

When you consider that the cost of the House farm bill is about $170 billion over 10 years, it's a small amount indeed compared to the funds that have been flowing so freely from Washington in the past few months. It's practically a bargain if it insures the future of American agriculture.

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