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Benjamin R. Barber Headshot

Farm Bill Baloney

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The presidential candidates in the endless primary go on about leadership and unity and change and experience, but meanwhile in Congress its politics as usual. i.e., bipartisan pandering to special interests.

That's right, here comes the Farm Bill -- a whopping $300 billion plus dollars, passed over President Bush's objections by a veto proof 318-106 vote margin, packed with earmarks and unconscionable subsidies for those profiting from ethanol and world hunger.

To be sure, there's a 10 billion dollar increase for food stamps, emergency food aid for the needy, and other nutrition programs, which make up nearly two thirds of the spending.

But there are also big subsidies and tax breaks for farmers. Despite the fact that commodity prices are through the roof, up 126% for wheat, 57% for soy and 47% for corn, which is in just about everything from plastics, sweeteners and ethanol to, well, corn. And yes farmers are still being paid not to farm their land to the tune of about 30 billion a year.

Now American farmers were once a majority of Americans and at the very center of the American economy and American heartland values. My great granddad was a farmer in Mason City, Iowa and I am proud about my own heartland connections.

But let's get real: that was in the 19th century and today, with less than a couple percent of Americans still working the land, it's not struggling farm families but huge agribusiness firms that till the land and rake in the profits.

And guess what the new farm bill offers them? I mean aside from endless earmarks favoring race horse owners (courtesy of Kentucky's Senator Mitch McConnell) and Western Salmon fisheries?

What it offers them is continuing tax breaks on farm income up to -- unhuh -- $750,000 per farmer. President Bush asked to lower the limit to $200,000 but was ignored. Farmers who make more than $750,000 in farm income who don't want to be taxed have an option - get yourself a wife and your non-taxable income goes to $1.5 million.

So it looks like America is still deriving its core values from the American heartland, as represented by the courageous Congress: namely, let's see, greed, pandering, special interest earmarks and, er, cowardice. Now these, if the Democratic/Republican consensus in the House represents us, are common values around which the country can really unite!