Consider this hypothetical scenario: my wife, Pat, comes home from work one evening in a snit. She says: “I'm mad as hell and I'm not taking it any more. I quit my job.”
Well, being a sensitive and supportive husband I would respond with something like: “Arrrghhh! Are you crazy?”
Then, after I had regained consciousness, I'd backpedal and make a suggestion. “We just need to look at the budget and see what we can cut. It will be okay.”
So we'd spread out the bills and make a list and then start working our way down to see what could be sacrificed.
Two cars. Two leases. Too bad. Can't cut.
Fishing boat payment. Sacred cow. Can't cut.
Annual trip to the beach. Real sacred cow. Can't cut.
So I study a bit and see a figure I believe will solve our financial woes.
“Groceries,” I'd suggest. “We need to cut out groceries.”
To which Pat would respond with a pat on the back… of my head, and offer some sensitive remark like: “Idiot! Get serious.”
As I said, it's hypothetical. But it's not all that far removed from what happened to the agriculture budget when President Bush took a look at the mounting red numbers and suggested a few things needed trimmed. I can imagine the scene.
“Defense spending. Sacred cow. Can't cut.
“Social Security. Sacred Cow. Can't cut.
“Taxes. Real sacred cow. Election year. Can't raise.”
“So, why don't we slice about 8 percent off the agriculture budget? I mean farmers make up only about 1 percent of the population so they can't need all that much. And they ought to be able to deal with minor little inconveniences like boll weevils and potential cattle diseases without quite so much help from the government.”
Ah, but the fallacy is that those farmers do feed all the rest of us, provide us groceries at a price that is the envy of the world. And agricultural programs cost taxpayers less than a nickel a meal. That's a good bargain by any standard.
Currently, agricultural spending makes up only about five percent of the total U.S. Government's budget. That's still a good bargain, considering the programs the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act include to help not only farmers but also consumers.
For instance, conservation programs that help preserve soil, water and air quality will lose funding. So will rural development and agricultural research. Those are cuts that will have serious immediate effects but likely even more dire consequences in ten or twenty years.
Investment in maintaining the infrastructure that allows rural communities to remain viable and investment in assuring that scientists have answers to food and fiber production questions that may not have even been asked yet, continue to be necessary expenses.
Agriculture, because of a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about what government programs entail and about what farmers actually do to provide fruits, vegetables, grains and meat, always presents a large, red target when the budget axe comes out. The one sector that should be a sacred cow never is.
Defense spending is absolutely necessary, no question. But if we lose the ability to feed ourselves, what good are the best tanks, the largest battleships, the fastest planes or the most sophisticated weapons systems? Not much. History is rife with accounts of generals who failed in battle because they couldn't feed their soldiers.
Perhaps advisers in the Bush Administration have lost sight of an important factor. The President has enjoyed a lot of support from Rural America. Farmers, for the most part, are conservative-minded and generally vote that way. Perhaps he needs a reminder, and an election year would be a good time to deliver it.
Cut the grocery budget? Come on Mr. President, get serious.