Posted by Brad @ 3:42 pm on November 25th 2008

Obama Goes After…Farm Subsidies?

Buried in his economic announcement today, something that stuck out. The Ticker:

In a speech just concluded announcing two more economy appointees — CBO chief Peter Orszag to the Office of Management and Budget and Robert Nabors (House Approp. Comm.) to be his deputy — President-elect Obama gave an example of one piece of wasteful government spending: farm subsidies.

Obama cited a GAO report out yesterday that said from 2003 to 2006, “millionaire farmers” got $49 million in farm subsidies despite earning more than the $2.5 million cutoff in annual income.

“If it’s true,” Obama said, “it’s a prime example of waste.”

With the announcement, Obama joins a long and largely defeated line of presidents and officials who’ve tried to kill farm subsidies, a perk as deeply ingrained in a nation built on the Jeffersonian Agricultural Ideal as any other.

Subsidies have been constructed and preserved by powerful Midwest lawmakers and are very difficult to pry loose.

To the president-elect, we say: Good luck with that. Let us know how it works out for you.

More here. But he said that as part of an even more general point:

Obama stressed the need to set up a long-term plan to reduce what he called the nation’s structural deficit once an economic recovery was “well under way” to avoid leaving “a mountain of debt for the next generation.” Still, as was the case during the campaign, Obama offered few examples, citing the need to reduce health-care costs and end wasteful government subsidies in industries like agriculture.

Structural deficit? Long-term plan after the stimulus to protect against leaving a mountain of debt for the next generation?

Put that in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” file, but man, Obama’s moving faster to the right than the Republican party has in a decade or more.



  1. I have a family member (through marriage) who owns a large dairy farm. He is very wealthy, not because the milk business is particularly profitable, but the subsidies are.

    Comment by Dingle — 11/25/2008 @ 3:48 pm

  2. How in blue hell do we get from “Obama wants to enforce existing limitations on recipients of farm subsidies” to “Obama’s taking on farm subsidies generally”?

    Brad, weren’t you the guy that argued that John McCain was picking around the edges by opposing earmarks? And now you are turning cartwheels because Obama, author of over a trillion dollars in new proposed spending, wants to reduce the structural deficit through…a $49 million reduction in ag waste?

    Comment by Rojas — 11/25/2008 @ 4:17 pm

  3. This is not to say that the wasteful subsidy in question isn’t worthy of being cut, of course. It’s somewhere to start. But cripes almighty, The Ticker overblows the signficance of it. And where “structural deficits” are concerned, we’re talking about something around two thousandths of a percent of the overall budget. It’s a little early to hoist the guy up on our shoulders.

    Comment by Rojas — 11/25/2008 @ 4:19 pm

  4. I focused on the agricultural subsidies because it’s something you, among others, seemed preternaturally focused on during the primaries, as emblematic of his fiscal cowardice. Here, picking literally two things out of a hat to cut, one of them is farm subsidies. He could have said “Bridge to Nowhere”, and instead shot for a target group who, we were told, he would never have an unkind word for or a handout not to give.

    As far as structural deficits (which he was talking about more generally)…

    Here is you yesterday:

    It seems to me that, if this is Obama’s approach, he has to commit himself to making up the difference, deficit-wise, when the economy improves. If he believes in the Keynesian precept that the pump must be primed in situations like this, he needs to also endorse the converse–that in better times, money needs to be tucked away. Absent the latter, I can’t support the former.

    Here is Obama today:

    Obama stressed the need to set up a long-term plan to reduce what he called the nation’s structural deficit once an economic recovery was “well under way” to avoid leaving “a mountain of debt for the next generation.”

    A little early to hoist him on our shoulders, yes. Early too to hoist him on his petard.

    Comment by Brad — 11/25/2008 @ 4:50 pm

  5. Think you mean “by his petard”, Brad. Nevertheless, I took your post as pointing to what appears to be Obama’s willingness to poke the sacred cow of farm subsidies with a stick, which is something that few if any have or are much willing to do. Regardless of the dollars attached to such programs they represent a Rubicon whose crossing can lead to a land of lard aplenty. He deserves credit if he is sincere.

    Comment by James — 11/25/2008 @ 5:29 pm

  6. By his petard, onto his other petard.

    There’s just a lot of hoisting and petarding going on, is all I’m saying.

    Comment by Brad — 11/25/2008 @ 5:40 pm

  7. You, sir, typos notwithstanding, are a petard.

    Comment by James — 11/25/2008 @ 8:16 pm

  8. Absolutely no one touches farm subsidies. It’s like kicking children.

    Comment by Mortexai — 11/25/2008 @ 11:07 pm

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