August 9, 2002

August 9, 2002 | Commentary on Federal Budget

Twisting "The Facts"

Have you ever bought a used car from a salesman who, after you had completed the purchase, kept telling you what a great deal you just got?

That's when you know you bought a lemon.

The same holds true for the farm bill Congress passed and President Bush signed three months ago. The debate was completed; the votes were taken; the law was enacted-and the agricultural lobby got nearly everything it asked for.

Now, policy-makers want to convince the American people that we didn't just buy a lemon. Some in Congress are relentlessly promoting a new 12-page report produced by the House Agriculture Committee entitled "The Facts on U.S. Farm Policy" in hope of quieting the nationwide, bipartisan backlash the farm bill provoked.

To understand why they're still glad-handing us, take a closer look at the legislation. With economic stagnation and a depressed stock market drying up the revenues needed to fight the war on terrorism, Congress voted to spend a record $180 billion on farm subsidies. Nearly three-quarters of these funds will go to the wealthiest 10 percent of farmers-most of whom earn more than $250,000 per year-or to such needy "farmers" as Ted Turner, Scottie Pippen, David Rockefeller and a dozen Fortune 500 companies.

The average household cost: $4,400 in taxes and inflated food prices over the next decade.
But you won't find that information when reading "The Facts on U.S. Farm Policy." Rather than attempt to provide a levelheaded, detailed defense of U.S. farm policy, this simplistic document succeeds only in insulting taxpayers' intelligence.

Many government studies are thick, detailed analyses. Pages overflow with small print and footnotes designed to show the reader that the information is trustworthy. "The Facts," by contrast, looks like a campaign brochure. Rather than bore readers with details and data, it does the thinking for them with short, simple rhetoric placed on a background of bright colors with a glossy finish. Instead of backing up assertions with sources, footnotes or appendices, "The Facts" prefers inspirational quotations and pictures of ex-presidents smiling.

But this slick design can't disguise an often comical lack of logic. For example, to prove that U.S. farm policy is geared toward real farm families instead of big agribusiness, the report cites the fact that foreign agriculture tariffs are high. Come again?

"The Facts" claims that farm policy cannot be geared to big corporate agribusinesses because "[they] actually oppose U.S. farm policy." Of course, not one example is provided. Finding one would require looking beyond the corporate agribusinesses that spent more than $50 million lobbying Congress in favor of the farm bill, according to campaign finance watchdog Opensecrets.org.

Even though the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost of farm subsidies at approximately $180 billion over the next decade (history suggests it could cost double that amount), "The Facts" lists farm spending at "only" $135 billion. What happened to the other $45 billion? The authors provide no calculations, sources or footnotes to tell us. They don't show much confidence in their $135 billion cost estimate, however, because the same page includes an annual breakdown of agriculture funding with a 10-year sum totaling $182 billion.

The authors of "The Facts" also prefer ad hominem attacks to serious analysis. In a cartoon-like caricature, they decry "radical special interests" who don't want good public policy, but would rather employ "envy and 'divide and conquer' tactics" to push "agendas that the vast majority of Americans reject." Personal attacks are nothing new in politics, but most politicians stop personally attacking their opponents once they have defeated them.

And that's the oddity: Congressional big-spenders and the farm lobby won. They got nearly every program-and every single penny-they asked for. But now, three months later, they're still taking the low road to defame their opponents. And, with a reported public relations blitz in the works based on "The Facts," taxpayers should expect more of the same in the coming months.

The worst part, though: This propaganda was funded with taxpayer money. Leave it to Congress to waste tax dollars trying to convince Americans that their tax dollars aren't being wasted.

Brian Riedlis the Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary issues at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Brian M. Riedl Grover Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

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