Farm and Food File: A time to choose
It’s difficult to improve on Mark Shields’ apt description of today’s Trump White House: “It’s like East Berlin,” observed Shields, a long-time political operative and pundit, during a recent interview, “there’s more people wanting out than wanting in.”
That was true Feb. 12 after the White House released its 2019 budget titled “An American Budget: Efficient, Effective, Accountable.” Within hours, however, few Americans—and strikingly few Capitol Hill Republicans—saw the deficit-riddled plan as efficient, effective or accountable.
The Administration rightly anticipated the budget antipathy. Shortly after its release, the President began a White House meeting to promote his equally dead-on-arrival, $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that, remarkably, failed to note his just-released budget’s 18 percent cut in Department of Transportation spending.
That’s Washington, D. C. in the post-truth era; alternative facts yesterday, alternative reality today.
The Republican bosses of the House and Senate Ag Committees quickly rejected the President’s spending plan for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “This budget,” they noted in a joint press release, “…will not prevent us from doing (our) job” to write “a Farm Bill for the benefit of farmers, ranchers, consumers, and other stakeholders.”
In short, “Thanks, Mr. President, but we’re playing through.”
The brief—did it last even a day?—life of the Administration’s plan did, however, showcase how eyeball-deep in budget hypocrisy Congress and the White House now live. Both talk endlessly about tomorrow’s deficits, debt, and coming despair and both nod, wink, and spend like there’s no tomorrow.
For example, if adopted, Trump’s 2019 budget would deliver a $984-billion federal deficit (2017’s was $666 billion) while adding $7 trillion to the national debt in the coming decade. (The Obama Administration, handed a financial meltdown and a global recession, added $7.9 trillion to the nation’s debt.)
As noted here last week, Congress is equally drunk on debt. Last December, its GOP-led majority passed a $1.4-trillion tax cut on nothing more than discredited economic dogma. Then, a week before President Trump offered his now-zombie budget, Congress passed a short-term spending plan that boosts federal outlays by $300 billion this year and next.
The Trump White House believes, and many in Congress agree, that much of this new debt can be paid for by deep cuts to federal programs used principally by the poor, elderly, and sick. As such, it proposes to cut $17 billion next year in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and seeks a $213.5 billion cut, or 30 percent, to SNAP over the next 10 years.
Similarly, the White House wants to cut Medicaid, the poor’s principal path to health care, by $250 billion in the coming decade.
If enacted, both ideas will have profound and lasting impacts on rural America. Currently, 16 percent of all rural Americans (three percent more than city dwellers) rely on some level of SNAP for their monthly food needs. That figure tops 20 percent in nearly a quarter of rural counties.
Likewise, 22.5 percent of all rural Americans—and 47 percent of all rural children—rely on Medicaid for health care. That number is higher in states that adopted Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Also, rural hospitals receive, on average, 20 percent of all income from Medicaid and rural doctors receive nearly 25 percent all care payments from Medicaid.
Budget cuts or no budget cuts, rural Americans—who are older, poorer, and sicker than urban Americans—will continue to need food assistance and healthcare. If the federal government cuts its current responsibilities, who will step up to meet the still-present need?
Before Congress cuts one cent from one program to fund corporate or personal tax cuts and, yes, even farm programs, every rural American needs a simple, straightforward answer to that simple, straightforward question.
Boxes of government-mandated “shelf stable” food from a less-than svelte USDA boss and a Diet Coke gulping president—who both, incidentally, enjoy government-sponsored health care—isn’t any answer to any question.
It is, however, a cynical way to score cheap political points if you’re more interested in winning elections than solving the nation’s problems.
The Farm and Food File is published weekly throughout the U.S. and Canada. Source material, past column and contact information are posted at farmandfoodfile.com.