Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shall we grow bananas in America?

"The principal purpose of agriculture policy in the United States is to guarantee we're not as dependent on other countries for our food as we are for our fuel," declared House Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam (Fla.). He broke not only with Bush but also with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who opposes a bill he has called wasteful.

"If I was a farm-belt guy, I would be all over my district now, saying, 'I stood with you, not the party of the president,' " said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who wrote to GOP leaders last week, urging them to defy Bush or at least allow rank-and-file members to save themselves. "Anytime you can separate yourself from someone with a 28 percent favorability rating, that's a good thing."

The five-year measure continues and in some cases expands traditional farm subsidies, and it is stuffed with billions of dollars of new money for anti-hunger programs, conservation programs, fruit and vegetable growers, and the biofuels industry. Dairy farmers will get as much as $410 million more over 10 years to cover higher feed costs. House and Senate negotiators tucked in an annual authorization of $15 million to help "geographically disadvantaged farmers" in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

The bill assures growers of basic crops such as wheat, cotton, corn and soybeans $5 billion a year in automatic payments, even if farm and food prices stay at record levels. And subsidies for the ethanol industry will decline only slightly, leaving largely intact support for the biofuel industry, which has been blamed for contributing to higher food prices.

An unusual coalition of urban liberals and Republican fiscal conservatives tried to sustain Bush's veto. "Merely because the president is not the most popular person in the country today doesn't mean he's always wrong," said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who pushed for sweeping changes to the farm-support system.

But that coalition was overwhelmed by the larger bipartisan coalition committed to defending rural constituents, food stamp and school nutrition programs, and new benefits for African American farmers. Nutrition programs will consume about two-thirds of the spending.

"This is a bill about feeding the hungry," pleaded Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.). "This president is turning his back on the people of America."

Hundreds of grass-roots organizations, including food banks, supported the legislation. The National Farmers Union rallied more than 1,000 organizations in favor of the override.

"Although it's pork to most of the country, it's prime rib to the farm belt," Davis said.

This is the essence of pork. Read the rest of it here. By the way, this week I started teaching principles of microeconomics, which I believe should include an introduction to public choice. This article will provide a good illustration of the special interest theory of politics.

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