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As sequestration looms, political angst rebounds
Hoosier Ag Today
“Will you kids stop fighting and get to work.”

As the parent of three children, I have had to say those words plenty of times. Usually it was when I had sent them off to do a chore like wash dishes, clean up the yard or something else they felt was unjustifiably harsh.

I would find them arguing with each other about how the job should be done or arguing about how one was not working as hard as the others.

They would be so busy arguing that the work was not getting done. I am quite sure this scene has been repeated on many farms when cleaning the barn, stacking hay or other farm work had to be done. This is what I think of as I listen to the squawking in Washington that is going on over sequestration.

Originally sequestration was a legal term referring generally to the act of valuable property being taken into custody by an agent of the court and locked away for safekeeping, usually to prevent the property from being disposed of or abused before a dispute over its ownership can be resolved.

Today, however, the term has taken on a much different meaning, one most of the people who use it don’t really understand.
Today it refers to a policy procedure originally provided for in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985 – an effort to reform Congressional voting procedures so as to make the size of the Federal government’s budget deficit a matter of conscious choice rather than simply the outcome of a decentralized appropriations process in which no one ever looked at the cumulative results until it was too late to change them.

Under sequestration, an amount of money equal to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution, and the amount actually appropriated is “sequestered” by the Treasury and not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally appropriated by Congress.

In theory, every agency has the same percentage of its appropriation withheld in order to take back the excessive spending on an “across-the-board” basis. In coffee shop language, sequestration means, “If you clowns can’t agree on how to stop over-spending all our tax dollars, then every agency gets their budget cut the same amount.”

If you thought the media hype and political angst during the fiscal cliff debate at the end of last year was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The name calling, accusations, and predictions of doom resulting from sequestration are already reaching biblical proportions. For example, at the beginning of last week, the USDA Secretary suggested that sequestration would result in a furloughing of meat inspectors.

By the end of the week, the White House was putting out reports warning of meat shortages if sequestration occurred. (See my column on food scare tactics a few weeks ago.)

A quick glance at current headlines will reveal a long list of doomsday predictions that are forecast if sequestration occurs.
Plans to avoid sequestration are popping up faster than weeds after a spring rain. Most are designed to advance the cause of the person or party offering the plan. For example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid along with Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow proposed a plan that would cut $31 billion from farm programs by eliminating direct payments to producers. The measure would also fund disaster programs left unfunded in the 9-month farm bill extension. Stabenow said, if adopted, this would protect the new 5 year Farm Bill (yet to be written) from any additional cuts.

The Republican controlled House Ag Committee rejected the idea saying it cuts $31 billion from farm programs but makes no cuts in food and nutrition programs. House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said, “The Senate approach takes away investment in rural America without addressing the hole it will create.”

Farm groups are also concerned that the plan takes away too much from farm programs and makes almost no cuts in other parts of the USDA budget. AFBF President Bob Stallman said, “More than $27.5 billion in net spending reductions are earmarked for farm programs – with all the cuts coming from the elimination of direct payments with no provision to allow use of some of the savings for reinvestment in new safety-net or risk-management concepts.”

National Council of Farmer Co-operatives suggests the plan would protect social programs while hitting other sectors much harder, “The only parts of the budget taking cuts under this proposal are defense and agriculture. It should also be noted that this cut would be three times what agriculture would contribute to deficit reduction if the sequestration process is allowed to move forward on its own.”
Sort of like when my daughter would turn to her brother and say, “I did the dishes all last week; it is your turn this week.”

So with only a few weeks left until sequestration kicks in, Washington is no closer to coming to an agreement on how our tax dollars should be spent. When my children refused to set aside their differences and work together to get the job they had been assigned done, I started taking away privileges. This usually resulted in grudging completion of the task.

Perhaps instead of penalizing those who depend on government services, we should penalize those who are responsible for the mismanagement and deficits of the government: Congress and the President.

Instead of across the board spending cuts, sequestration should involve cuts in the salaries of Congress and the President and the loss of privileges like free healthcare, free postage, the use of Air Force 1 and the like. If our elected leaders of both parties are going to act like children, then perhaps we need to treat them that way.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Gary Truitt may write to him in care of this publication.
2/21/2013