Katrina Postpones Budget Debate
The impact of hurricane Katrina continues to be felt throughout the nation, causing Congress to postpone federal budget reconciliation. As the nation realized the scope and magnitude of the impact of Katrina, attention shifted from budgets to emergency spending. As this is written, budget reconciliation is on hold for at least a month – until October 26, 2005 – and hurricane Rita is bearing down on the Texas gulf coast.
Katrina will test the mettle of American government. How will we rebuild? Will we work to eradicate poverty in gulf coast states hidden by a veneer of economic prosperity that was ripped away by Katrina? And will we work to create economic opportunity for those in other places, urban and rural, that still fight a hidden battle against economic hardship?
Agricultural losses due to Katrina appear less than expected. USDA’s preliminarily estimates put agricultural losses due to Katrina at about $900 million. “Given the severity of the hurricane, the agricultural losses could have been much greater,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
Meanwhile, in a September 19, 2005 letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leadership, the National Cotton Council, USA Rice Federation and several other commodity groups urged the appropriators to “…reject any provisions which would substantially alter the policies…and allocation of financial resources embodied in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.”
It is difficult to imagine a more cynical view of public policy and the role of government. It would be irresponsible for government to take such a shallow approach in farm policy, especially now.
When resources are scarce and fiscal demands are great, we must expect a better return on public investment. For example, farm payment limits would save money, but just as importantly, would create economic opportunity throughout rural America.
Katrina has forced us to realize that a disaster on the gulf coast creates stern challenges everywhere. Harvest is upon us. And no farmer can postpone it until fuel prices come down. Rural workers face increased costs for commuting and for heating homes this winter. All of our lives are interconnected.
Public policies are also interconnected. Justice demands that we help those who are suffering. Justice demands that we not put that financial burden on our children. And justice demands that we spend our money for the good of the many over the benefit of the few.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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