Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Would the farm lobby betray the Food Stamp Program?

Dorothy Rosenbaum of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes today:
Some agricultural commodity groups have suggested that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees meet their $3 billion reconciliation instruction by cutting each program area that the Committees control in proportion to that area’s share of overall Agriculture Committee spending. These groups have circulated documents showing that under this approach, the Food Stamp Program would be reduced by $1.7 billion over five years and bear 57 percent of the cuts in the House, and $2 billion over five years (bearing 67 percent of the cuts) in the Senate. The purpose of this proposal is clear — to shift the majority of the cuts from farm-related programs to food stamps.

This self-serving proposal assumes that the task at hand for the Agriculture Committees is a simple matter of arithmetic that does not entail any setting of priorities. But priorities are inevitably involved. And it should be noted that the proposal these commodity groups are pushing departs sharply from the priorities in the President’s budget. Moreover, the proposal is sharply inconsistent with the position these groups took in 2002, when the Farm Bill was being considered and the Congressional budget made money available for increases in Agriculture Committee programs. These groups did not suggest in 2002 that the increases be distributed proportionately, but rather that the lion’s share go to farm programs.
Rosenbaum's argument is clever in several ways. She shows that the farm lobby implicitly seeks food stamp cuts much deeper than President Bush's compassionately conservative budget calls for -- a potentially telling argument in the Republican Congress. She pins the inconsistency between the farm lobby's view of a fair distribution of budget cuts this year and budget increases in earlier years. And in classic "Getting to Yes" fashion, she proposes a more fair distribution of the cuts, following principles the President has endorsed in the past.

In a radio interview in April, an Illinois radio journalist asked me if the current budget environment would tempt the major commodity lobbies to press for food assistance cuts. I was skeptical. I replied that the farm lobby would do so at its own grave risk, considering that a stable coalition of urban and farm-state legislators has for several decades provided the political muscle behind both the Food Stamp Program and the farm programs.

Rosenbaum Figure

No comments: