Is every political goal impossible?
By Ken Root
Objectively sizing up the presidential candidates is almost impossible. Each of us carries a bias on many issues that tilt our judgment. If you have referential experiences in agriculture then you are likely to favor programs that support farmers. If you grew up in urban poverty then you have a different bias and probably support supplemental food programs. If you have strong religious beliefs or compassion for your fellow man, then you are likely to believe that government's role is to care for its citizens. Of course, for us all to agree on how government cares for citizens is impossible.
I want the federal government to protect us from outside forces and internal strife, offer incentives for citizens to work and be healthy and resolve disputes. Otherwise I want government to stay out of the way and let business and the marketplace work. That is, of course, impossible.
In the last two months of campaigning, both parties are going to tell us what they will do to build our economy, assure a safety net and allow everyone their dignity and freedom to live as they choose. Being able to deliver on any of these campaign promises to meet the expectation of everyone is impossible.
"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" is the question the Republicans are asking and the Democrats are defensively answering. Asking that question to a farm audience causes quite a few heads to drop as farmers compute the value of their crops and land and the income they have turned into bins, barns and green paint that is sitting in the new machine shed. Livestock producers are less satisfied but their lot has been affected by weather which shrank the crop and increased the cost of feed. It is hard to say that this administration has had an adverse impact on agriculture, however, farmers often take income for granted and turn their attention to what they fear so satisfying all sectors is impossible.
"Regulatory uncertainty" is a catchy phrase right now as agriculture fears the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies. Organizations have flagged proposals on dust, labor and water as intrusive and anti-business. Reality is that we need a responsible level of regulatory oversight and enforcement. Go to Mexico to see how a country exists without regulation. We expect water to be clean for its purpose, air breathable and food safe for responsible consumption. The fact is that regulation is a glacier. It keeps moving regardless of the administration and will, eventually, reach into every area of our lives. Stopping it is impossible.
Right now we have a "fiscal cliff" that has to be addressed by both parties and both presidential candidates. In fiscal 2013, next month, we have to make decisions on enormous spending cuts. Congress has shown that it does not have the gumption to make choices on its own so it set up automatic cuts that will happen next year. This is not what governing is about! We send them to make difficult choices. They have to be pragmatic. They can't be allowed to pass this off any further. Of course, you know that getting an elected official to lay down partisanship and objectively stand for principal is impossible.
The reversal from a trend, that I'd like to see, is the number of people receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Here are the facts about that program over the last four years (per Agri-Pulse Electronic Newsletter).
USDA reported that almost 46.7 million people received SNAP benefits in June. That's compared to about 33.5 million people who participated in the program in 2009, the first year that President Barack Obama was in office. Spending for the program, not including administrative costs, rose to $72 billion in 2011, up from $30 billion four years earlier, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO projected that one in seven U.S. residents received food stamps last year.
Last week, an unattributed Internet story came my way:
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is actually proud of the fact it is distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.
Funny or frightening, the trend in our country is to milk the government. Farmers used to know how to do this as well as anyone but, in the farm legislation now being considered, 77 percent of the funding will go to nutrition. I want to see less dependence on government by all Americans but I'm afraid that's impossible.
Here is my checklist for an ideal president and administration:
--The president would lead, in word and deed, toward building a stronger economy.
--People who work would gain status and benefits, and business investment by individuals would be encouraged.
--Health care costs would be controlled and those that are either physically or mentally incapacitated would be given appropriate, cost-effective care.
--Those who are criminals, at any level, would be dealt with in a firm but compassionate manner.
--The federal government would go on a diet and reduce spending to balance the budget, without tricks, by 2015.
--American citizens who desire an education, academic or vocational, would be given the incentive to do so. Government-sponsored student loans would end.
--Immigration policy would be revised to deal with the reality of need for workers and new citizens from countries worldwide.
--Social Security would exist for the remainder of my lifetime.
Although you might re-prioritize my requests, none are out of line. Do I think that either party will accomplish them? Well...you know.
Editor's note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.