License to spend

Posted: May 08, 2002 12:00 AM
When president Bush was in San Jose last week, he praised a former welfare recipient who, thanks to welfare reform, got a job and said she began to feel "like an adult again." Too bad Bush doesn't want agribusiness to grow up, as well. While Bush sees the beauty in welfare moms being weaned from the dole, he is ready to give farm-welfare queens a raise. He has said that he will sign the so-called Farm Security Act, which the House passed last week by a 280-to-141 vote, that would consume $180 billion in tax dollars over 10 years. Bush is committing the Classic GOP Sin. He rightly has pushed through a tax cut, then wrongly doesn't demand fiscal discipline in the spend-happy Congress -- even when the country is at war and can't afford to waste tax money. According to the Heritage Foundation, the farm bill will increase federal spending over 10 years by $1,805 per average American household and will drive up family spending by $2,572, thanks to the bill's price supports. Democrats, of course, are equally to blame. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle consistently bashes Bush for deficit spending -- while he inconsistently pushes up federal spending. Daschle lives to bash Bush for supporting a tax cut that helps the rich. You'd think that if Daschle thought it were wrong for rich people to keep more of their own money he wouldn't support giving rich people other people's money. And forget the family-farm rhetoric. As James Bovard, author of "The Farm Fiasco," noted, "Historically, the farm programs have been carefully designed to throw small amounts of money to small farmers and large amounts to large farmers." Two-thirds of the last $71 million in farm welfare went to 10 percent of the farms. Still, California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein began to support the act after the joint-conference committee agreed to lift a proposed subsidy cap of $275,000 per cotton and rice farm family. U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman Kevin Herglotz said the administration supports the measure because, "We have a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House, and this is what the conference produced." He added that the administration used its power to bargain where it could, but "this is an election year." An aide to a GOP member who voted against the bill was sympathetic to Dubya's plight. He noted that back in October when Bush opposed the pricey bill, the House passed an early version of the bill by a clear veto-proof majority of 291-120. Bush simply realized that there was no point in wasting political capital. Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union does not agree. If Bush had threatened to veto a pork-heavy measure, he argued, Congress might have been more reluctant to add more pork. Said Sepp, "Once the word got out that the White House wasn't going to fight this, it was a license to spend -- on both sides of the aisle." The bill has new subsidies for peanuts, chickpeas and lentils. It even resurrects the old subsidies for honey, wool and mohair -- boondoggles that once were the material of late-night talk-show comic monologues. Sepp noted, Congress is "funding the very programs that were once considered to be jokes." Bush should both threaten to veto the bill -- and veto it -- if the Senate passes a porkfest. If Capitol Hill passes measures that can't even pass the Laugh Test, if members keep upping funding for corporate welfare, Bush should let them know that such bills will become law only over his loud objections.