Debra J. Saunders

 But conservative politicians oppose attempts to fix the pork-fest. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. and former chairman of the Agriculture Committee, pledged to fight Bush on this plan.

 Liberals support reform because they aren't fans of big agribusiness, would rather see their tax dollars spent on conservation or don't support taxpayer dollars subsidizing food exports, but liberal politicians have opposed it.

 In 2002, after voting in favor of a $275,000 spending cap per farming couple, both California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer changed their position and asked budget conferees to oppose that cap. In the end, Washington worked out the higher cap, which is a picnic to work around. ("California tends to have larger farms, and so when you have those caps in place, it does disproportionately hurt California farms as opposed to other farms in the nation," explained Feinstein's spokesman Howard Gantman. Without the details of what a new cap, or the next budget, will look like, it's not clear what Feinstein's position would be.)

 Clearly, this is an uphill fight. The more sense a spending reform makes, the less likely Washington is to go for it.

 Then there is the administrative nightmare. Good luck to whoever has to write the new rules to stop agribusiness from dividing and evolving in order to qualify for more subsidies and circum vent any cap.

 Some see this Bush gambit as a PR stunt. "Every January or February, the White House trots out an audacious plan that heartens liberals, angers entrenched political interests, engenders a national debate -- and ultimately goes nowhere," wrote the New Republic. And it makes you think that if Bush were serious, an opening gambit of a 10 percent cut -- rather than 5 percent -- would have shown more resolve.

 White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Bush is serious and is "exercising responsible spending restraint in order to achieve this president's goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009."

 The Environmental Working Group's Cook also believes that Bush means business. "It's pretty hard to talk about significant changes in Social Security payments and no changes in farm subsidies," Cook explained.

 Ee-eye, ee-eye oh.

Debra J. Saunders

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