Idaho congressmen Michael Crapo and Helen Chenoweth face some tough choices.
They want to cut government spending and balance the budget, but they also want to protect the farm programs important to a rural state such as Idaho.
“I think Idahoans want us to balance the budget, and they are willing to do their share,” Crapo says. “My job, in balancing the budget, is to make sure Idaho is not disadvantaged in the political process to get there.”
“Disadvantaged” in this case would mean rural states such as Idaho, with few votes in Congress, could be asked to take the brunt of cuts needed to balance spending with income at the federal level.
He can count votes. But Crapo is convinced that rural interests in Congress will hold together to block cuts in farm programs that could be devastating to Idaho.
With a new farm bill being written by Congress in this session, a lot of Idaho farmers are worried about what it will look like in view of the budget-cutting mood of the new Republican-dominated Congress.
Crapo has held 26 town meetings around his 2nd District. He and Chenoweth also held a weekend hearing in Boise to see what local agriculture organizations think about the upcoming farm bill.
Among the 25 groups invited were 16 from Idaho, including the Idaho Grain Producers, Idaho Barley Commission, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Idaho Dairymen’s Association, Idaho Wool Growers and Idaho Cattle Association.
Crapo said the town meetings gave him a pretty good idea of what rural Idahoans think.
He said farmers want some sort of mechanism left in place so they can cope with “anti-competitive conduct” by other nations, mainly foreign subsidies that allow inefficiently produced commodities to be sold competitively with the more economically produced U.S. crops.
Farmers also are looking for fewer regulatory burdens and want changes in capital gains and inheritance taxes.
Crapo thinks if farm groups get what they want, they won’t have strong objections to cutting some money from farm programs - maybe $9 billion over the next seven years.
But Crapo, now in his third year in Congress, knows it would be easy for his colleagues to cut farm spending and provide just vague promises for relief on other issues important to farmers.
He said he has a guarantee, in writing, from House Speaker Newt Gingrich that it won’t happen that way.
Crapo said it won’t be Idaho alone battling changes that could hurt state farmers with farm-state allies like Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and others in congressional leadership posts.
“The rural interests tend to recognize that they must support each other,” he said. “And the regional interests back each other. Many of these issues are not Idaho-specific. They are more rural in nature than Idaho in nature.”
Crapo said there’s no question that the federal budget must be balanced. He prefers an across-the-board cut, exempting only a few programs such as Social Security.
“That approach is not supported by a majority of either party,” he said, so farm programs will be on the chopping block along with everything else.
“In that context, agriculture must bear its fair share of the reductions,” he said.