The GOP, as everyone knows, is the party that believes in the free market, opposes big government, and takes particular exception to welfare programs. But then there's Iowa, where Republican presidential candidates fall over each other telling corn farmers and hog farmers that the free market is unfair, that the government isn't doing enough to help them, and that taxpayers should support them when they fail to make money on their own.
To be sure, Democrats do the same thing. Bill Bradley recently called for $11 billion in "emergency" aid and reversed his longtime opposition to subsidies for ethanol, a fuel derived from corn (his thoughtful explanation: "I changed my mind"). Yet it is the Republicans who have taken ag-pandering to a new level this year, in advance of Saturday's straw poll in Ames. With the exception of John McCain, who opposes ethanol subsidies (and isn't participating in the poll) all have adopted a blank-check approach to the farm issue. Here's what the leading contenders are offering as of today:
George Bush's five-point program:
- Would work aggressively to open markets for U.S. products and producers.
- Would not use food as a unilateral sanction or diplomatic weapon.
- Emergency disaster relief, both through direct payments to farmers and reformed crop insurance.
- Tax incentives for use of ethanol.
- Calls upon European Union to accept findings of the World Trade Organization and allow importation of genetically modified farm products.
Comment: Very compassionate!
Lamar Alexander's "Ag Stimulus Package."
- Tell the Europeans, if you don't buy our pork and beef, we won't buy your pork and beef.
- Double the ethanol market and raise the price of corn 40 cents a bushel by banning MTBE, the oil-based gasoline additive.
- Double export credit guarantees to $8 billion a year.
- Double federal support for research at land grant universities.
- Repeal the inheritance tax for the sake of farm families.
- Reduce the number of food sanctions.
Comment: Pssst, Lamar--I don't think we buy their pork and beef.
Elizabeth Dole's ten-point farm program:
- Mandatory federal price reporting for pork producers.
- An increase in exports under the Food for Peace program.
- Full utilization of the Conservation Reserve Program.
- Full utilization of the Export Enhancement Program.
- Increased promotion and use of ethanol.
- Enactment of Fast Track trade-negotiating authority so farmers can have access to foreign markets.
- Allowing China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
- An immediate 100 percent tax deduction for farmers' health insurance premiums.
- Elimination of death taxes on family farms.
- Helping rural America receive access to technology.
Comment: The part about no inheritance taxes for farmers sounds especially fair.
Pat Buchanan's "Family Farm Bill of Rights."
- Eliminate all inheritance and capital gains taxes.
- Insist that all countries that trade with the United States give American farmers open access to their markets absent tariffs and quotas.
- Abolish the IMF and end American taxpayer bailouts of foreign competitors of U.S. farmers.
- Review all embargoes and sanctions of foreign countries that use food exports as a weapon.
- Enforce existing antitrust laws to prevent mega-mergers.
- Require price disclosure.
- Support ethanol production.
- Rewrite the Endangered Species Act to require a vote of Congress on every species listed.
- Exempt family farms from OSHA.
- End the regulatory theft of property without just compensation.
Comment: Pitchfork Pat is back!
Steve Forbes' "Farm Recovery Plan"
- The Fed should ease its tight money policy and immediately reduce real interest rates.
- Tear down trade barriers and bust open new markets.
- Help our foreign customers get back on their feet.
- Dramatically reduce the tax burden and abolish the death (a.k.a. "estate") tax.
- Dramatically reduce the regulatory burden.
- Investigate potential anti-competitive practices.
Comment: Steve Forbes: The only rich person in American who thinks Alan Greenspan is doing a bad job.