Commentary: Too many programs for Congress to assess

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The congressional arguing over the farm bill is basically arguing over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget. The farm bill should be less complicated than trying to pass a budget for the entire nation, but the USDA budget fight hasn’t been easy. If members of Congress cannot figure out how to deal with the farm bill economics, how in the world do they expect to complete a budget for all the departments and operational costs of each branch of the government, and have it total within the parameters of the budget cutting that is being demanded?

It would seem that the automatic budget cuts are the only way for Congress to trim the budget because there is no time available for Congress to tear apart every program, look at every dollar spent and require justification for every program—like seems to be occurring with the farm bill.

The USDA outlays estimated budget as provided by the U.S. Government Printing Office for 2011 fiscal year was about $152 million. The 2012 fiscal year budget estimate for the USDA is shown as $144 million. The percent of total U.S. government budget is about 4 percent of the total government outlays.

The rough outlays by some other departments are much larger with approximate percentages of the  largest ones being projected as follows: Department of Defense, 19 percent; Dept. of Health and Human Services, 24 percent; Dept. of the Treasury, 15 percent; Social Security Administration, 22 percent.

Trying to tear apart department expenditures of the size that these departments/agencies spend would seem to be impossible for Congress, even if there weren’t party affiliation involved.

Looking at the farm bill budget there are a 100 associations tugging and pulling for Congress to keep programs they favor. When it comes to talking to members of Congress, each group has its bias and wish list. The example is livestock producers versus corn growers, Corn Belt farmers versus Southern farmers; specialty crop growers versus row-crop growers; organic growers versus conventional chemical farmers and many more lesser recognized competitions for money.

Farmers and ranchers talk with U.S. consumers explaining the agricultural industry and family farming using similar messages, but they cannot agree on one message in talking to members of Congress. There are economics involved that will hurt or help each and every group, and Congress holds the purse strings.

There also are all the outside groups not directly involved in farming putting in their two cents about agricultural issues and lobbying Congress. An example that came out last week was the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) complaining that no disaster payments should be paid at the expense of conservation programs. The NWF reported the House was scheduled to vote on providing drought relief to ranchers with the bill paid for “entirely by cuts to conservation programs.”

“Although it is critically important that those ranchers who have been affected by the devastating drought get the disaster assistance that they need, this bill offsets the aid through steep, disproportionate cuts to the conservation title. We need Congress to act now to provide aid to ranchers in need, but this should not be a choice between robbing Peter and paying Paul,” said Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture and forestry at the NWF.

My comments and example don’t even consider all the lobbying being done by groups involved with the nutrition programs in the USDA budget.

What many call a do-nothing Congress might just be incapable of assessing all the government programs, even if there wasn’t money being stuffed in their pockets to finance campaigns and influence their vote.

I’m not saying that the size of government is out of control, but I am saying that in this complicated modern world, it is mind boggling how members of Congress are expected to know everything and play God to an extent.

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