Farm Forecast: Aid, with 32.3 Billion in Scattered Dollars

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"So Congress figured it wouldn't be fair to ignore the sheep and goat people while everyone else and his brother got a big bailout?"

"Right. Those Texans weren't about to let that happen. If you wanted to be idealistic, you could say it would be wrong to let the little crops suffer while the big ones cashed their government checks. Or, if you were feeling cynical, you could call it pork barreling. Either way, in farmball, everybody's subsidy justifies everybody else's subsidy. Of course, the grocery or pizzeria or hardware store down the street doesn't get a federal disaster-relief bill when times are tough."

"Well, we have taxball for those folks. J.C., just to wrap up on wool and mohair, what happens next year, when this one-year program is set to expire? Isn't that when we'll see the real clinch plays?"

"Could be, Jarat. Or could be 2002, when the next farm bill is due. Jule Richmond, the first vice president of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers' Association, told me he hopes to put in a permanent program."

"Where's your money, J.C.? Is wool and mohair back for good?"

"You know the old saying: There's nothing more permanent in this town than a temporary program."

"Well, we'll be tuning in to that rematch later on. Meanwhile, let's talk about the main game. How about those farmers! What a play!"

"Jarat, I've got to tell you, the phone lines were just lighting up all over Washington on June 1 when word of that $32.3 billion score hit the streets."

"A little background here for our viewers. For decades, farm programs were entitlements that supported farmers' incomes by propping up commodity prices."

"That's right, Jarat. It was a good deal for farmers, but reformers and economists hated it. Farmers grew too much of what the government subsidized and not enough of everything else. Things got so messy that even the farmers started to have doubts."

"That was how the big reform play came about, wasn't it?"

"Yessir. In 1996, the reformist Republican Congress just grabbed the ball and ran it all the way down the field and smashed it home. That year's farm bill stopped supporting prices for the big grain crops and instead gave the farmers straight cash payments, which were set to decline over seven years. So there were really two goals: reducing Washington's interference in agricultural markets by getting rid of price controls, and ratcheting down the cost of the program."

"You know, J.C., the fun of farmball isn't just the big play, it's the recovery afterward. Did you expect the farmers to move back to offense so fast?"

"Honestly, Jarat, I don't think anyone did. By 1998, prices were down, and farmers were hollering. So they just started moving the ball back down to their end, one play at a time. In 1998, Congress passed a big farm-aid bill. In 1999, it passed another one. Just last month, it passed yet another."

"With a lot more in it than just wool and mohair payments."

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