Farmers and ranchers have not enjoyed the same economic growth and prosperity that many other sectors of American society have experienced in the last decade. Nevertheless, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a plan to provide tax benefits for the rich and balance the federal budget and on the backs of farmers and ranchers. Doesn’t this balanced budget plan sound a bit … unbalanced?
The fiscal year 2004 budget resolution, which the House passed 215 to 212, funds President Bush’s new tax cut proposals by reducing government spending in other programs such as agriculture. This budget plan would cut $18.6 billion, or more than 25 percent of the additional resources Congress provided in the farm bill to improve the farm economic safety net and enhance nutrition, conservation and rural development programs. This is a slap in the face to farmers and ranchers who are already struggling as a result of natural disasters, poor commodity prices and increased market concentration.
Most recently, the House Budget Committee chair has said he would consider allowing the agriculture committee to postpone any cuts for five years. But, a cut is a cut. While it may seem better now to put off the pain for another time, it only means the cuts will be deeper in 2008. How will we write a farm bill at that time without sufficient funding? No one can predict commodity prices that far into the future; but until we fix the fundamental failures in the marketplace so farmers and ranchers receive a fair return on their investments, U.S. producers must rely on a farm program safety net.
It is a question of priorities. The proposed reductions in agricultural spending clearly suggest that some in Congress are willing to renege on the long-term commitment to agriculture, as provided in the 2001 budget act and the farm bill enacted less than one year ago. It is equally clear this action is being proposed to achieve the president’s tax cut for the nation’s wealthiest individuals.
A balanced budget should include tax reform and an economic stimulus for the poor and middle-class Americans, not just the privileged. A balanced budget should help improve the quality of life and create economic opportunities for all citizens, including those in rural America.
Dave Frederickson is president of the National Farmers Union, representing 300,000 farm and ranch families. The group’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.