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If Pundits Were Farmers...
Profligacy and protectionism are alive and well in D.C.


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Deroy Murdock

It’s Christmas on the Potomac. Virtually every lobbyist with a business card and a pulse has been showered with goodies from Capitol Hill to the White House. Congress is smiling upon the Farm Security Act (FSA), a 10-year agriculture bill that will rain $73.5 billion in new favors across the fruited plains. (The House of Representatives passed FSA Thursday afternoon, 280-141; the Senate soon will consider the legislation.) In recent weeks, the White House has imposed tariffs on foreign steel and Canadian lumber, thrilling domestic producers while infuriating America’s trading partners.

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Political commentators like me condemn such profligacy and protectionism, usually to no avail. So, rather than criticize Washington’s mischief yet again, we might as well send Santa our own wish list. It’s time for Congress to adopt the Pundits Promotion and Protection Act of 2002.

Opinion journalism is clearly a strategic national industry worthy of federal largesse. Picture America without CNN’s Crossfire, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, or www.nationalreview.com (where my work is archived). Just imagine how bland your morning corn flakes would be without the daily editorial page. The following policies — patterned after existing, real-life programs — will assure this country a steady and reliable supply of perspectives on today’s vital issues.

House and Senate negotiators on April 20 approved a 10-year, $305 million expenditure to resurrect wool, mohair, and honey subsidies that were killed in 1996. They also authorized brand-new spending programs for lentils and chickpeas. Splendid. Congress immediately should allocate $305 million to underwrite election-endorsement editorials, budget analyses, and reviews of non-fiction books.

The FSA includes federal price guarantees for specific crops. Wheat, for instance, enjoys a target price of $3.86-per-bushel through 2003. Sorghum growers can count on $2.54-per-bushel, while barley farmers can expect $2.21-per-bushel. (Congress hiked these three prices.) Similarly, columnists should receive guarantees of at least $2,500 per opinion piece and $3,500 for in-depth interviews. So what if this increases newspaper prices? They will be worth every extra penny.

The Senate this spring approved a provision promoted by Majority Leader Tom Daschle that forces oil refiners to include 2.3 billion gallons of renewable fuel to their gasoline stocks in 2004. This mandate rises to 5 billion gallons in 2012. The easiest way to do this is to add ethanol. This reputedly-green measure looks suspiciously like a stocking stuffer for those who raise corn, from which ethanol is derived. “This easily could add as much as $3 billion to annual farm income by 2012,” predicts John McClelland of the Washington-based National Corngrowers Association.

A new law requiring that all bound publications include at least one nationally syndicated column likewise would benefit the commentary industry. Soon you could enjoy witty political observations in the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, the White Pages, and even high-school yearbooks.

The Bush Administration recently slapped 27.2% duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber shortly after it approved tariffs of up to 30% on foreign steel. What a great idea. Who needs low-cost raw materials anyway? Americans should be honored to pay higher prices for cars and washing machines made with U.S. steel and an estimated $1,500 more per average new home built with domestic lumber.

Along those lines, the White House should stick 30% tariffs on opinion pieces by Canadian writers such as David Frum and Mark Steyn, and Englishmen such as Christopher Hitchens and John O’Sullivan. These gentlemen are thoughtful and eloquent scribes. Who needs that in the competition?

The most gorgeous bauble of all is the Conservation Reserve Program. It pays farmers not to farm. The FSA allocates $1.5 billion to farmers to drop their plows, dismount their tractors, and cede up to 2.8 million acres to flora and fauna for at least 10 years. This is delightful for the environment and for farmers lucky enough to stop planting crops and start planting federal checks in their bank accounts.

Sign me up! An Opinion Reserve Program could pay folks like me not to opine. Think how much energy we could save by clicking off our computers and evacuating TV studios. True, our loyal readers and viewers might miss our viewpoints. But this finally will allow us commentators to stop commenting, put our feet on our desks, and live off the labor of others. It’s the American way.



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