The question of farm subsidies is an important element before Congress on how to trim the federal deficit in the short run and roll back the national debt in the long term.
Subsidies to agribusiness, both corporate farms and individual farmers, are features of American life that have been defended vigorously by farm-state lawmakers for decades. They will amount to $16 billion in 2011. The Republican proposal for budget trimming, introduced by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, would eliminate $30 billion in subsidies over the next decade, maintaining the gifts to farmers from taxpayers but lowering their annual total to about $13 billion.
The arguments cut both ways. America started out as a country of mostly small farmers. Although the “country” romanticized by the musical genre of the same name has been supplanted largely by company-owned farms with factory-raised chickens and pigs, even a city slicker might get teary-eyed at the down-home culture portrayed in a Willie Nelson song.
There is also the strategic argument. What if an America no longer able to feed itself, because it hadn’t financially supported its farmers, were menaced by China, the Arabs or the latest post-bin Laden boogeyman?
On the other side, however, is the point that agricultural commodity prices and farm income in general have remained high for a long time. Given that, why can’t the farm industry forgo $3 billion a year in aid to boost the cause of a financially sound United States?
That’s the battle to be waged shortly between Republicans and Democrats, subsidy backers and farm-aid opponents. It seems to us that, with the farmers retaining a hefty $13 billion a year under the Ryan plan and with the need to cut America’s deficits and national debt, a $3 billion-a-year cut in agricultural subsidies makes sense. But brace yourself for the screaming and yelling.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 10)