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WHO'S AMAZING?



Published: Tue, July 2, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: A month ago Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, appeared on NBC's Sunday morning show with Tim Russert, who confronted him with an extract from a Washington Post editorial. The extract wasn't very friendly -- it attacked the senator for promoting the budget-busting farm bill -- so perhaps the snippy response was understandable. "I am just amazed at the inaccurate reporting about the farm bill," the senator stated, claiming that the bill actually saved money. In the past, he explained, preplanned farm subsidies were supplemented by annual emergency payments, which taken together exceeded the cost of the new farm program.

"We're getting rid of those ad-hoc disaster payment approaches. We're actually bringing down the cost of the federal program, and very few journalists and very few commentators report on that."

On June 13, just 11 days after Mr. Daschle's TV performance, a press release appeared calling for more ad-hoc disaster aid -- the sort of payment that had apparently been phased out.

So much for promises

The release came from Sen. Tim Johnson, Mr. Daschle's fellow South Dakota Democrat, and it quoted the majority leader at some length. "We need to provide natural disaster assistance as soon as possible," Mr. Daschle stated. "The new farm bill sets up sound policy for the future . . . but that will not help farmers whose land is so bone-dry that their crops will not grow and their cattle cannot graze." So much for that promise to Mr. Russert that "we're getting rid of those ad-hoc disaster payment approaches."

Mr. Daschle explains that the phased-out kind of payment is for economic disasters, whereas the payment that the senator now seeks is for a weather disaster. Of course, "economic disasters" can be weather-related too; they happen when good weather boosts production and so drives down prices. But setting that aside, the senator himself acknowledges that many farmers already get plenty of federal help when bad weather strikes.

The government subsidizes crop insurance, which covers up to 85 percent of a farmer's losses; additional drought relief would push compensation for some farmers above the 100 percent level, so why would Mr. Daschle want that? Ranchers, admittedly, get less federal help. But Mr. Daschle and his colleagues could have extended subsidized insurance to ranchers as part of the farm bill. They didn't do that because they preferred to allocate their billions to other constituencies.

There's been a punishing drought, and some farmers are suffering. But bad luck happens in lots of industries that don't expect the federal government to save them from its consequences.




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