Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 23, 2005

Tom DeLay and Budget Fat

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:13 pm

Last week, (former?) fiscal conservative Tom DeLay (R-TX) apparently said there is no fat to cut in the federal government’s budget:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an “ongoing victory,” and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Now hearing someone like Tom DeLay say something like that is kind of like hearing Ted Kennedy say he’s had enough alcohol to drink, or like hearing Bill Clinton saying he’s had enough … never mind. Anyway, that is so out of character I normally would have thought he was joking, as in, “Nope, there’s no fat left to cut in the federal budget — and the Air Force has all their pigs fed and ready to fly!”

But apparently — and frighteningly — DeLay seems to be serious:

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans’ choice to borrow money and add to this year’s expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn’t seem possible.

“My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I’ll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet,” the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Well, if Tom DeLay needs help finding the fat to cut in government, I’m here to help. For starters, if he wants to cut fat, we could start with milk fat. Here’s a program I think we could cut:

§ 7981. Milk price support program

(a) Support activities
During the period beginning on June 1, 2002, and ending on December 31, 2007, the Secretary of Agriculture shall support the price of milk produced in the 48 contiguous States through the purchase of cheese, butter, and nonfat dry milk produced from the milk.
(b) Rate
During the period specified in subsection (a) of this section, the price of milk shall be supported at a rate equal to $9.90 per hundredweight for milk containing 3.67 percent butterfat.

So, here we have a government program whose sole purpose is to spend money in order to increase prices. The Secretary of Agriculture is directed to buy enough milk, butter, and cheese that the market price increases to a specified level — per unit of fat. (Talk about “fat in the budget”!).

And what happens when the price gets that high? Ordinary people pay more at the grocery store for milk and milk products than they would if there were a free market with supply and demand determining the price.

Of course, since the price is higher than it would be, more people are too poor to afford milk. But don’t worry, they have another couple of programs for that, too — Food Stamps and WIC.

These are basically programs in which the government pays artifically inflated prices for food for poor people who can’t afford it because other government programs made the prices artificially high.

In other words, the government is taxing you and using the money to buy milk and pour it down the drain, for the express purpose of making it more expensive for you to buy with whatever money you have left after paying taxes. And for those people who really don’t have enough money left, they tax you more so those people can pay those increased prices.

And of course, there’s nothing unique about milk and milk products — I just picked that because it is literally, rather than merely figuratively, “fat in the budget.” There is also plenty more programs very much like this — they are called “price support” programs, and they exist for corn, grain sorghum, soybeans, barley, oats, wheat, mustard, safflower, sunflower, canola, flaxseed, rapeseed, rice, and cotton, and maybe some others I missed.

It is a huge program to use taxpayer dollars to increase prices, for the benefit of a small group (farmers). It is wasteful on its face, since they destroy most of the food they buy, and it is a direct transfer of wealth from everyone who’s not a farmer (or poor enough for food stamps) to everyone who is a farmer. (The poor don’t necessarily benefit, since without the higher prices they might not need food stamps and the like.) And farmers are not necessarily poor; some of them are rich and some are corporations. And this does not necessarily aid the farm workers;the aid goes to the owner of the land, whether that person or company is actually a farmer, or just an investor.

I have never once heard a single rational justification for this program. Can you imagine if this sort of program were in existence for, say, cars? Imagine: “The Secretary of Transportation shall support the price of automobiles produced in the 48 contiguous States through the purchase of cars, trucks, cans, and SUVs … at a the price of automobiles shall be supported at a rate equal to $20,000 per ton of gross vehicle weight.” And imagine then that the government buys millions of cars a year, crushes them and puts them in a huge dump, and then gives “car stamps” to poor people, since someone earning the minimum wage can’t afford to pay $75,000 for a car. The rest of you have to pay that artificially increased price — and by the way, through your taxes you also have to pay for all the cars the government buys and crushes, and those are paid for at the artificially increased price also.

If Tom DeLay needs to be told this, he’s completely lost his marbles. Of course, the article has further evidence of that as well:

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.”

The government is running at peak efficiency? Quick, tell the FAA they need air traffic control at all the pig farms!

UPDATE: Mona Charen has more comments.

5 Responses to “Tom DeLay and Budget Fat”

  1. Greg Says:

    It has long been a source of great amusement to me how people holler and moan about big-oil jacking up prices– “gouging” they call it– while the dairy industry has been charging between three and four bucks a gallon for years.

  2. Jeff Moore Says:

    When I was working in Hungary, one of my colleagues who had lived under communism told me about how the old government set the price of a liter of gas, a liter of milk and a loaf of bread to be the same price.

  3. Lively Debate Says:

    Carnival of the Capitalists Summary
    This week’s Carnival of the Capitalists is a day late but full of juicy link goodness. Here are the tastiest picks from the smorgasbord:

    Tom delay and Budget Fat makes a great point using the example of milk. The government pays money to increas…

  4. Bogus Gold Says:

    Flabby Republicans Need Real Competition
    Over at Anti-Strib, Tracy has a post that speaks for a lot of people:

    Republicans now have little in the way of real competition, in a…

  5. The Wrench Says:

    Can They cut fat between their ears or

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