Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bush ag cuts roil GOP

It's impossible not to savor a bit of shadenfruede at the expense of GOP farm-state legislators.

These people clearly knew during the 2004 presidential election that the federal government's generous underwriting of large-scale agriculture couldn't last unabated. Bush is shelling out $5 billion a month trying to maintain order in his fiefdoms in Iraq and Afghanistan. That flow of cash won't likely stop anytime soon. According to Counterpunch, the insurgency controls all main roads to Baghdad--an astonishing claim, missing from the mainstream press, that would explain the Occupation's failure to stop a plague of car-bombings.

That, plus a generous regime of tax cuts for high earners, and a nice increase for military spending ex-Iraq, spells deficits that would have made Reagan himself blush. Who didn't know that, after the election, Bush's moneymen would produce their knives and parse the Federal budget for "fat"?

By cutting the maximum level of subsidies and other tactics, the proposed Bush budget would trim about $5.7 billion in federal support over the next ten years, enough to finance approximately five weeks of "peace keeping" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on formulas from the 2002 Farm Bill, farmers will get about $17.8 billion in subsides this year (the amount of support changes with market conditions).

Now those Red State rascals have to explain to their constituencies, mostly in areas where subsidized farming is one of the few areas that pay, that the gravy train is losing a good deal of its gravy. Of course, if they want to stick around in Washington, they'd better put up a good fight first, and they are, as this terrific article in today's Washington Post shows.

The article states that tensions are particularly running high in the south, the bedrock of Bush's electoral success. That's because the large-scale flight of the textile industry to cheap-labor havens overseas has left cotton farmers searching for a market. And their political friends have done a nice job of fixing one up for them. The Post article states:

It costs an average 65 cents for a farmer in the United States to produce a pound of cotton; the adjusted world price in late February ran less than 40 cents. This has made U.S. cotton growers unusually dependent on the government. A program called "Step 2" essentially subsidizes cotton exports and protects home producers from foreign competition.

Step 2, which has cost taxpayers more than $2 billion since 1990, pays a rebate to textile mills that buy U.S. cotton when foreign cotton is cheaper. Brokers who sell U.S. cotton abroad for less than what they paid at home can get the government to reimburse them for the difference.

By taking advantage of a raft of federal subsidies and legal loopholes, cotton farmers can boost their income to more than 70 cents a pound -- double the recent world price. Emphasis added.

Now, don't think some Mississippi dirt farmer with 40 acres out back is cashing in on this windfall. The article states that "One percent of those [cotton farmers] receiving subsidies collected 28 percent of the money paid out between 1995 and 2003," adding that only 30 percent of Mississippi's cotton farms are large enough to be eligible.

Meanwhile, it should be noted, African cotton farmers, many of whom were prodded into commodity farming by various international institutions, have suffered bitterly as subsidized US cotton swamps their markets. Brazil recently won a claim through the WTO against the US for essentially dumping its cotton on foreign markets. The Post article notes that Bush’s proposed cuts wouldn’t reduce the cotton subsidy to a level that would comply with the WTO ruling.

Speaking generally, Bitter Greens Journal supports an end to all commodity-farming subsidies. In their place, we'd like to see federal grants for setting up viable local and regional food systems. How much? Five billion a month would certainly do the trick.

Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy watching GOP congressmen squirm.


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Anonymous AIB Internet Banking said...

Farm state legislators need to realize that what's good for their state and will get them reelected isn't always what's good for the rest of the country, or world, and shouldn't be the automatic decision.

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