May 9, 2008 | Commentary on Energy and Environment
Need proof that Washington lawmakers are out of step with the American people? Consider the farm bill, a Depression-era relic that heavily subsidizes America's agriculture.
Agriculture Committee members have been negotiating with the White House to cultivate a version that the president will sign. Expect a great harvest for everyone but conservatives: Many lawmakers are increasing subsidies to farmers who are benefiting from record crop prices.
According to my Heritage Foundation colleague Brian
Riedl, since the 2002 farm bill was considered, the price of rice
has gone up 281 percent, and wheat has risen 256 percent. Yet
negotiators want to keep rice subsidies at the same level as the
prior farm bill and actually increase subsidies for wheat
Current farm policy sets no income limit for full-time farmers to be eligible for farm subsidies. President Bush says subsidies should be limited to those making less than $200,000 annually (although he may accept a higher farmer income cap of $500,000). Congress is considering setting the bar at $1 million.
Meanwhile, food prices are skyrocketing and American families are hurting. A better farm policy would be to jettison all subsidies and let the free market set farm prices.
Who has the power to hunt and kill America's economic activity with one simple bureaucratic regulation? Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
Because of a court order by federal judge Claudia Wilken of California, Kempthorne has until May 15 to decide if the polar bear should be covered by the Endangered Species Act. Radical environmentalists argue that global warming is destroying the bear's icy habitat.
The inconvenient truth is that the bears are thriving. Its numbers have more than doubled in the past 30 years, and Canada (!) recently refused to place the animal on its threatened species list. In fact, Canadians allow 500 polar bears to be killed each year, which hasn't discouraged a majority of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 bears in the world from residing in Canada.
If Kempthorne complies, radical environmentalists will sprint into court to pursue their economically debilitating global-warming agenda. Left-wing judges will agree to block the building of new power plants, curtail SUV use, and stifle every-day economic activity. Conservatives, beware of the left using cute and cuddly polar bears to use our courts to turn some of our most precious freedoms into endangered species.
Late last year, the House passed by a large margin a bill that allows federal recognition of "Native Hawaiians" as a distinct group, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised it some floor time. Known as the "Akaka Bill," it would establish a governing body to represent Native Hawaiians in negotiations with the federal and state governments. So much for equal protection. Congress seems ready to create a new government based on the racial or ethnic background of individuals.
The Akaka Bill would establish a government where only people who can prove Native Hawaiian status would be allowed to vote and participate. The average American would be revolted by the thought of, say, an African-American Governing Authority, where people would have to submit DNA evidence to be allowed the privileges and immunities of membership. Yet it's somehow acceptable for Native Hawaiians to have a race-based governing body to collect federal cash and buy lands for the use of Native Hawaiians who pass the race test. What happened to "all men" being "created equal"?
Congress has largely ignored the explosion in spending under the federal government's entitlement programs. In Fiscal Year 2007, Washington ran a $163 billion deficit -- and entitlement programs are the chief culprit. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are projected to expand rapidly and create unsustainable deficits.
Yet members of Congress can't even take baby steps to slow this expansion. Look at how Congress responded to President Bush's seven rules designed to curb certain Medicaid fraud and abuses. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that spent $338 billion in taxpayer monies last year, and the president proposed reforms that would save taxpayers $42.2 billion over the next 10 years. Congress, though, is trying to block them.
Conservatives should encourage lawmakers to tackle entitlement reform. If members lack the stomach for even modest reform, they need quite a kick.
Brian Darling is director of US Senate relations and congressional analyst at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared in Human Events