The Very First Post

Back in February, 2006, I launched what was then “Andy’s Angle” at A plucky young farm broadcaster, I was just dipping my toe into the shallow end of the digital pool. Knowing very little about blogging, and not yet destined for immersion into the social media Universe, I was ready to take my role as a Farm Broadcaster into a whole new realm: the blogosphere. Feeling somewhat nostalgic, I thought I’d share with you what I wrote nearly five years and 1,100 posts ago:

Get ready to tighten the belt.  You know how it goes – You’re sitting at the kitchen table, it’s about quarter of ten, the calculator is just out of reach, the stack of bills is on your left, the ledger on your right.  Pens and pencils litter the landscape and you’d much rather be in bed.  And then it hits you – If you had only gotten that contract on November beans 24 hours sooner, you might be looking at a nice bit of profit this season… but you didn’t.  And so you’re going to be on-target to hit your budget instead of being firmly in the black.  But that’s okay – a budget is designed to keep you in the black.  Earn the revenue you say you will, don’t spend more than you say you will, and unless mathematics just isn’t your thing, you put money in the bank.  Apparently, Congress hasn’t spent much time farming.

And so we’ll find out in a few short weeks as the 2007 Budget process begins.  It’s supposed to work like this – With a Conservative majority in both chambers, and a Conservative hanging his Stetson at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the fiscal affairs of Uncle Sam should be in fine order.  But they’re not.  As it happens, The President submits his budget every year, and for the past few, he’s asked us to trim some of the fat… or at least not spend more money than we did last year… or at least not too much more.  And then of course the Congress decides it absolutely can’t do without this program or that, or this particular interest needs support for this project or some other.  Oh, and then the President goes ahead and announces he’s going to increase funding for his handful of initiatives and priorities, and suddenly the budget isn’t so balanced and the checkbook looks like it might just be overdrawn.

What happens at your place when the checkbook gets overdrawn?  Ah – it doesn’t, right?  Obviously, you understand the basic economic principles behind budgeting.  But then again, you do have an advanced economics degree from the University, right?  Oh… you don’t.  Hmmm – that’s a mystery then.  Well, at any rate, you fathom the concept that you can’t spend more than you earn without serious consequences.  If you get a chance, you may want to call your Congressman and let him know how it works.

This week the President delivered his annual State of the Union address, and along with assuring us of the successes in the War on Terror, he attempted to give Middle of the Road Americans the picture of a “kinder, gentler” George W.  What that amounted to was a watered-down reaffirmation of his commitment to reform Social Security, permanently repeal the Death Tax, and extend his wildly successful tax cut package, alongside a string of initiatives that, at least to those of us in the real world, sounded like more government and thus, more spending.

I don’t know about you, but that concerns me just a tick.  As excited as I am about the administration’s commitment to ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable energies, and as happy as I am that the President wants to work on helping us be more competitive at home and abroad, I’d much rather my government focus on spending less money, providing the best national security possible, and making sure that the business climate is such that I can maximize my family’s profit potential.  Sound like a fairly reasonable expectation to you?

Now here’s the rub – While the lion’s share of us agree that being in deficit territory is bad fiscal policy, and while the vast majority of us agree that we need to get beyond reducing the deficit to reducing the national debt, we have a smidge of hypocrisy to deal with.  And here’s where I start earning my hate mail:  We have to stop whining when the President asks us to cut federal farm dollars alongside every other department in the government.  That’s it.  We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to do cartwheels with joy, but we have to stop whining.  If the President asks USDA to do more with less, as we can reasonably assume he will, it is our responsibility (if we agree that deficit is bad and a balanced budget is good) to do our share in agriculture.

That being said, it is also our responsibility to hold Congress and our President to a high standard of accountability – We will not carry more than our share of the burden.  We need to carry our share, but nobody else’s.  So, when the President announces a “bold new set of initiatives” in his State of the Union, and then follows that up two weeks later with a series of cuts to federal farm spending, we should speak up and be heard.  Congress did a pretty good job of reigning in the President’s budget cuts to agriculture last year, and I surmise they will again; but, we need to keep our eyes and ears open, protecting those programs that are most worth fighting for, and realizing when its time to wave goodbye to this subsidy or that.

Finally, we’ve got to determine what we really hold as our core values.  In other words, we have to reconcile a few key policy issues in our own minds.  Here’s where it gets tough.  We have to be able to reconcile our desire to have free and fair trade with our desire to keep our own subsidy payments.  We have to come to terms with our conflicting emotions on fiscal responsibility and keeping federal farm entitlements intact.  And, we have to get serious with our legislators about overhauling Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid so Grandma and Grandpa get their checks and that you and I don’t break the federal piggy bank wide open.  These are not easy issues, because as soon as the President says “farm spending cut”, we scream bloody murder, and as soon as a conservative whispers “reform Medicare” the media hollers that we want to throw the indigent out in the street with no medicine.  That’s not true of course – we just need to figure out how to get folks their pills without paying so many people in Washington to count how many pills they take.

So perhaps the best strategy is to invite your Congressman over for dinner.  Make sure it’s a late evening affair.  Cook up a great big meal and mention how thankful we are that US agriculture put the meat and potatoes on the table.  Then, make sure the after-dinner conversation is fairly amusing and none too political.  And then, just when he thinks he’s about to head for the door, drag out the ledger and the calculator for a refresher course in Econ 101.