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May 20, 2008

The Farm Bill

John McCain as quoted in The New York Times: "It would be hard to find any single bill that better sums up why so many Americans in both parties are so disappointed in the conduct of their government, and at times so disgusted by it."

Barack Obama on his campaign website:

"I applaud the Senate's passage today of the Farm Bill, which will provide America's hard-working farmers and ranchers with more support and more predictability…

"By opposing the bill, President Bush and John McCain are saying no to America's farmers and ranchers, no to energy independence, no to the environment, and no to millions of hungry people."

Obama does concede that the bill is "far from perfect" but says "we cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good." Both Hillary Clinton and Obama accuse McCain of not wanting to help the poor whose food stamps are included in this massive bill. Both use McCain's position on the bill as another example of how McCain is just like George Bush, who has promised to veto the bill even though his veto is sure to be overriden.

Trouble is that McCain and Bush are right (even Bush can be right) and Clinton and Obama are wrong. Sure, the food stamps are needed. But a separate food stamps bill could easily be passed and it wouldn't draw a veto. Sure, there are a few reasonable conservation measures in the bill; they could have been passed separately.

What we do not need and can't afford is a continuing subsidy for corn-based ethanol. What we do need and aren't getting is an end to the protective tariffs on sugar and particularly on sugar-based ethanol (much more efficient to produce than the corny variety so of course we have to be protected against it)

What we don't need and can't afford is to squander this opportunity to pare back and eliminate farm subsidies at a time when farmers are doing well. Many of these subsidies go to very rich farmers; some of these subsidies are paid regardless of the price farm output is selling for. What we don't need is the billions in pure pork tucked into this bill – much of it having nothing to do with farms or even food.

This "farm" bill is an example of congressional politics at its worst, a bipartisan example BTW. The unpalatable and outrageous are neatly bundled with the necessary in order to garner votes and label anyone who opposes the boondoggle as an opponent of whatever is good in the bill – in this case the food stamps and a few other things.

Change we can believe in would be a farm bill that was about farming; a food stamp bill that was about food stamps; and an end to earmarks altogether. That's not asking for perfection; it asking for political courage. John McCain has consistently refused to pander to the farm lobby (even if he did pander to us drivers on the gas tax holiday); Barack Obama was right on the gas tax and is way wrong on the farm bill. Hillary Clinton is 0-2.

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