In the final week of the presidential campaign, cheese is becoming one of the key election issues. America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin, is one of the “blue” states that President Bush is hoping to pull into the “red” column. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, is tugging back even harder, and he’s not fighting fair, hitting Bush below the “farm belt” (as it were) by attacking him in rural Wisconsin with some misleading and bizarre claims.
First, Kerry is running a television ad on selected stations in the central and western part of the state, claiming that the Bush administration has a secret plan to end subsidies known as “Milk Income Loss Contract” (MILC) payments. The MILC plan that Kerry supported already provides for the payments to sunset in October 2005–that’s no secret. What Kerry is actually charging is that when the MILC program expires per the Congressional mandate he voted for, Bush would “secretly” let it.
But even that’s stretching the truth. Two weeks earlier, in Wausau, Wisconsin, Bush said that if Congress passed legislation to extend the program, he’d gladly sign it. None other than Wisconsin’s senior senator–and Kerry’s Democratic colleague–Herb Kohl, cheered the president’s position. Maybe Senator Kohl forgot to tell Kerry.
Kerry is also campaigning in Wisconsin on a platform of putting an end to the imports of milk-protein concentrates. These specialized proteins are ingredient items used in certain types of cheese, coffee creamers, infant formula, and even medical and pharmaceutical products. Despite Kerry’s claims, there are no comparable dairy-protein ingredient products made in the U.S. Moreover, a report by the U.S. International Trade Commission–requested by Congress, and released in May 2004–concluded that domestic farm milk prices have not been adversely affected by these imports. Kerry’s plan wouldn’t help Wisconsin dairymen, but it sure could undermine the food-processing industry that is so important to Wisconsin’s economy.
The boldest and most bizarre of Kerry’s claims, however, is the charge he makes that Bush and Wisconsin Republicans are telling the truth about his record–specifically, his support for the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact, a pricing scheme in place from 1996-2002 that punished more efficient Midwest dairymen vis-à-vis New England milk producers. Consider this statement from Kerry: “I know that Republicans are going to try very hard to say, ‘Oh, John Kerry voted for that dairy compact when he represented Massachusetts. I plead guilty. I did vote for it, because I represented Massachusetts as a United States senator.” But now, the rest of his argument goes, Wisconsin dairy farmers will just have to trust Kerry to flip-flop on that issue.
No wonder the Wisconsin Farm Bureau for the first time in its 84 year history made an endorsement…for President Bush.
–Dave Juday is a commodity-market analyst.