You know it’s going to be a long, hot summer if, on the day before you assume the political leadership of the United Kingdom — as Boris Johnson did on July 23 — one of the world’s most authoritative newspapers, the New York Times, prints a column that begins with the phrase, “Boris Johnson, to whom lying comes as easily as breathing…”
As searing as that opening line was, it wasn’t the column’s most pointed point. That came when it suggested that Prime Minister Johnson, formerly known as Mr. Brexit, might have trouble dealing with his European Union counterparts because, well, “it doesn’t help, of course, that its officials regard Mr. Johnson as a dangerous buffoon.”
Keep in mind that these are the Europeans playing nice. When they’re not playing nice they simply say nothing, like right now in response to the White House’s demand that United States-EU trade talks include agriculture.
Silence, when it comes to trade talks, isn’t golden.
Another sure sign of summer heat is the inability of most federal officials to see the broad, clear picture in front of them once the smell of burning jet fuel hits either end of Pennsylvania Avenue in late July.
For example, with Congress itching to leave on its annual August recess, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes in rules governing the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to cut an estimated $2.5 billion and three million Americans from the program.
It’s Perdue’s second run at SNAP; he made a similar attempt during the 2018 farm bill fight. Congress roundly rejected his idea and left it out of the final, bipartisan bill. Now, just a year later, Perdue claims he has the authority to implement the cuts despite the farm bill that his boss, President Donald J. Trump, signed.
Worse, Perdue could not have picked a more awful time to make his legally questionable, politically clumsy move.
First, no sooner had Perdue assumed legal powers not given him by the constitution, the president took to Twitter to note — wrongly, as is often the case with his tweets — that “farmers are starting to do great again, after 15 years of a downward spiral.”
As every farmer knows and every fact makes clear, there has been no 15-year downward spiral for “farmers” for decades. In fact, U.S. net farm income hit an all-time record, $123.4 billion, just six years ago before bottoming out at an estimated $62 billion in 2016.
After that whopper, though, the president did get the next fact exactly right: “The 16 Billion Dollar China ‘replacement’ money didn’t exactly hurt!”
No, it didn’t. Nor did the estimated $9 billion farmers also received in similar “trade mitigation” subsidies in 2018.
In fact, if the entire $16 billion in “China” money that the president alluded to was paid to farmers this fiscal year — and it won’t because the paymaster, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corp., must wait for the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 to replenish its drained accounts — the Trump “replacement” cash would represent 23 percent of 2019’s forecasted net farm income of $69 billion.
Twenty-three percent. How is that something to brag about when it flies in the face of most farmers’ — and every Americans’ — understanding of free markets and free trade?
Worse, the president’s self-congratulatory tweet gave the Washington press corps another shot to compare White House policy directed at its rural political supporters — $16 billion in unfunded, non-congressionally approved subsidies — even as it makes an end run to cut congressionally required, legal benefits to the poor by $2.5 billion.
It was such a slow, fat softball that even the myopic, mostly non-athletic White House press folks hammered it out of sight.
“The selective socialism of Donald Trump: Farmers, yes. Poor families, no,” declared a headline in the July 23 Washington Post.
Great. This long, hot summer just keeps getting longer and hotter.
Alan Guebert is an agricultural columnist based in Illinois.