President Bush will seek deep cuts in farm and commodity programs in his new budget and in a major policy shift will propose overall limits on subsidy payments to farmers, administration officials said Saturday.
Such limits would help reduce the federal budget deficit and would inject market forces into the farm economy, the officials said.
The proposal puts Mr. Bush at odds with some of his most ardent supporters in the rural South, including cotton and rice growers in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and more than 100 farm groups are gearing up to fight the White House proposal. The administration’s willingness to push the proposal, despite such protests, suggests how tight the new budget will be.
Most of the subsidies are paid to large farm operators growing cotton and rice and, to a lesser degree, corn, soybeans and wheat.
KIRKUK, Iraq — As he walked through the mud surrounding his temporary barracks, 1st Sgt. Ken Agueda carried an M-4 assault rifle without its essential lethal components: bullets. Earlier in the day, Agueda had turned in his ammunition — cartridges, assorted grenades — in preparation for his journey home after nearly 13 months in Iraq.
“It’s like walking around without your pants,” said Agueda, a 17-year U.S. Army veteran from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
With their departure just days away, Agueda and his unit, the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, were euphoric and reflective. In more than a dozen interviews over three days this past week, soldiers with combat experience in all corners of Iraq offered up a mixed final assessment of a conflict that is burned into them forever. Its ultimate outcome, all agreed, remains highly uncertain and far away.
Soldiers ranging from privates to senior officers described last Sunday’s national elections as vindication for over a year of hard service. The unexpectedly strong turnout, they said, altered their perception about the willingness of Iraqis to embrace the American mission here and helped project a rare positive image of the U.S. military following such stains as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal last year.
“This was the opposite of Abu Ghraib,” Agueda said. “I think it’s safe to say that this is the biggest thing that anyone of us has ever done. I mean, in our humble positions, we helped make history. We did something that could have a positive effect on the entire world.”
Spec. Andrew Field, 31, of Tallahassee, described the elections as “the culminating event for our whole deployment. If it hadn’t gone well, it would have been incredibly demoralizing to everyone. It gave meaning to everything we were doing.”
But the soldiers were reluctant to say that the elections were a turning point in the war. “Leaving with the elections will definitely be a positive in our minds, but I don’t know if I’m optimistic or pessimistic,” said Capt. John Hussey, 26, of Uvalde, Tex. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire country descends into chaos. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it flourishes, either.”
Asked how long he thought U.S. troops would remain in Iraq, Hussey said: “Probably 10 or 15 years, if we want to do it right. I don’t think there’s going to be 135,000 Americans in Baghdad 10 years from now, but there are going to be Americans in Iraq for a long, long time.”
Stylistically, Mr. Bush’s speech was effective, delivered with sincerity and clarity. Optimism is infectious, of course, but taken to Pollyanna-ish extremes it invites skepticism. Much of this speech was like a meringue – sweet to the taste, but more froth than substance.
The President was his most disingenuous about Social Security, an issue that also bears on the deficit. He described the so-called crisis apocalyptically and his version of reform was very rosy. But he never answered the question of how the system will be able to absorb losing the contributions of younger workers – who would get to choose private accounts – without having to borrow to make up for those funds, thus further adding to the deficit.
With this speech, Mr. Bush at the very least banished the notion that he is a lame duck. What the American people have, for good or ill, is an assertive, formidable presence in the White House – one who may very well get his way, especially if the lame response of the Democratic leadership in Congress continues.
The Democrats may be lame for now, but with the likely election of Howard Dean as DNC chairman, that will not be the case much longer. Bob Novak was frothing at the mouth even more last night on Capital Gang (the man needs to find a new dentist and get those plates refitted) about the Dean selection which means that he’s truly frightened by the choice, especially knowing that the Republicans will be going head-to-head against Dr. Dean with Ken Mehlman. No question that Mr. Mehlman is a fine manager and skilled political operative, but his stage presence needs work. Dr. Dean has also been the true uniter in the Democratic party; no small accomplishment given the party’s history of attempting to teach cats to march. What other comparison can we come up with? Well, it’s almost spring – let’s get bucolic.
The Democratic Party, to my way of thinking, has been like a giant, overgrown rose bush, full of thorns and dead leaves and branches tangled up with each other. During each recent election it has been pruned by the electorate, cut back to its strongest, thickest boughs. I’m not convinced this process is done yet; I suspect more pruning lies ahead. But I also think that Dean’s supporters, the blogosphere, and MoveOn represent the first fragile shoots of something new. They are not yet strong enough for anything to perch on, and they have their own sharp, new thorns. But they are fresh, green, and new, and that’s important for a party that too often seems old and dessicated.
Dean has an uncanny ability to find talent in odd places, and bring new people into the fold. More importantly, he’s willing to work with anyone, and will, I suspect, bring that spirit of openess with him to Washington. In his race for DNC chair, he brought in Clintonites and former campaign enemies. His Democracy for America group has been far less chaotic than was his presidential campaign, and even its blog looks to be a more controlled, professional operation than was Dean for America’s. (Indeed, that blog was compulsively readable partly because it was so very unfettered.)
One of the smartest centrists I know recently noted that Dean will be operating, in Washington, under “Hillary Rules.” This is certainly true; anything Dean says will be subjected to tremendous scrutiny, and he will be operating with no room for error. And so perhaps the best choice for Dean would to be follow Hillary Clinton’s lead by putting his head to the grindstone, staying off television, and quietly going to work. Already, there is some indication that he recognizes this may be his best course of action.