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Crescendo of criticism threatening new farm bill?

It's been a long time since I've read so many articles written by so many people who don't know what they were talking about. I'm referring to the deluge of commentary that followed the signing of the new farm bill, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

In Washington, newspapers from both sides of the political spectrum condemned the new law with the liberal Washington Post saying it “showered billions of dollars in new subsidies on wealthy, corporate farm” and the ultra-right Washington Times terming it a new “welfare bill.”

Business Week devoted no less than three articles to the new farm bill in its June 3 issue. In one, former Clinton administration economic adviser Laura D'Andrea Tyson called the farm bill the “$200 billion disaster.”

Overseas, the London-based The Economist magazine chastised President Bush for signing this “monstrous new farm bill” that it said could wreck any chance of further trade liberalization.

To their credit, administration officials continue to react strongly to the criticism. Both Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Lawrence Lindsay, the president's chief economic adviser, responded with letters to the editor and commentary in The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

All of this plays into the hands of folks like the Environmental Working Group and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who announced May 28 that he would try to attach his payment limits amendment to the fiscal 2003 agricultural appropriations bill, and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Grassley has been circulating a column, which appears on the EWG Website, claiming that the new farm bill may “sound the death knell for small and mid-sized family farmers.”

Such statements would be expected from writers at the Washington Post and The Economist, whose only connection to agriculture comes at the grocery store. But Grassley should know better, given that his Iowa farmers receive more subsidy payments than those of any other state. Grassley, who calls himself “the only working family farmer in the Senate,” repeats the usual litany of farm bill criticisms: (1) The spending will further increase the budget deficit, (2) It threatens to exceed the spending caps in the world trade agreements; and (3) The new bill will undermine efforts to bring world trade liberalization.

All have been refuted by Secretary Veneman and other administration officials, but Grassley and Lugar refuse to give up, thinking they can undo two years of work by more informed congressmen if they just keep blathering about how bad this farm bill is.

One veteran political observer recently noted the “unholy alliance” that has been formed by liberal environmentalists such as the Environmental Working Group on one side and right-wing Republicans such as Grassley, Lugar and Phil Gramm of Texas on the other.

The National Cotton Council has invited commodity and farm organizations to a June 12 meeting in Washington to address the criticism. But it may take more than these groups to defeat the efforts of these new “true believers” who seem convinced they have right on their side.

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