Conservative columnist George Will criticized Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in an article in this week’s Newsweek magazine, saying Craig’s support for a $20 million sheep industry program conflicts with his rhetoric about limiting government.
The article, titled “Political Dissonance,” used Craig and the sheep program as an example of a mentality in Congress that “involves the unsleeping pursuit of advantages for friends, and slothful refusal to think about what are and are not proper functions of government.”
“Conservatives like Craig are supposed to think more clearly,” Will wrote.
Craig has received $3,500 in campaign contributions from the American Sheep Industry PAC since 1990.
Idaho Wool Growers Association executive director Stan Boyd said, “George Will’s missed the whole point of what the sheep center’s for.”
Craig’s campaign manager, Mike Reynoldson, agreed. “Sen. Craig’s work on the Farm Bill (which includes the sheep program) was to bring the agricultural industry to a more market-oriented system.”
The National Sheep Industry Improvement Center is a program to help the sheep industry make the transition away from government subsidies, he said.
The program includes a $20 million revolving fund for business loans, research grants or loan guarantees. The money comes from duties on imported wool and woolen goods, which previously funded direct subsidies for the U.S. sheep industry.
Since the subsidies began being phased out, Boyd said the industry’s been in turmoil. “The industry went down about 20 percent in breeding stock, but prices went through the roof, because there’s a shortage.”
Then, because there were fewer sheep, infrastructure such as packing houses, feed mills, and trucking outfits declined.
The revolving fund will help the industry address those problems and become competitive, Boyd said. “Right now we’re down to only three packers in the Western U.S. that handle lamb with any kind of volume.”
Boyd said he believes agricultural subsidies were designed to help consumers more than farmers.
Craig’s Democratic challenger, Walt Minnick, blasted Craig over the Newsweek article. “Larry Craig is willing to cut hot lunches for school children and college loans for students, yet he still dishes out the pork for lobbyists and PACs, who contribute generously to his election campaigns,” Minnick said.
Reynoldson responded, “Sen. Craig is listening to the farmers and ranchers of the state of Idaho. Apparently Walt Minnick is getting his advice on ag programs from George Will.”