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Published September 14, 2009, 10:00 PM

Alan Roebke, Alexandria, Minn.: ‘Fiscal hawks’ fly high over crop insurance subsidies

Although these senators question or don’t want a government option for health care reform, they see highly subsidized federal crop insurance in a much different light. In this, they’re joined by most of the Blue Dog Democrats in the House and fellow farm state senators.

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — As Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., restrain President Barack Obama from meaningful health insurance reform, their insurance track records need to be examined.

For although these senators question or don’t want a government option for health care reform, they see highly subsidized federal crop insurance in a much different light. In this, they’re joined by most of the Blue Dog Democrats in the House and fellow farm state senators.

All of them see “government crop insurance” as great; so, since 2001, about 58 percent of the farmer’s annual premium has been paid with taxpayer dollars. This subsidy is available to all farmers — big and small, rich and poor. That makes government-run crop insurance a major perk, one that’s prized by everyone from the smallest part-time farmer to the largest full-time producers who grow most of today’s crops.

And these crop insurance subsidies were not even affected by the prosperity of record grain price caused by the energy boom. Even after federal data had shown that total crop values jumped from $44 billion in 2005 to $90 billion in 2008, Congress still failed to end premium subsidies.

As the data confirmed, many of today’s full-time farmers are millionaires and multimillionaires. That may not be a politically correct statement in America today, but it is financially accurate.

In 2008 and 2009, Iowa farmers got $910 million to reduce premiums, Nebraska farmers $724 million and North Dakota farmers got more than a billion dollars. That’s a total of $2.7 billion in premium reductions by these powerful senators, who brought bacon for their state’s wealthiest but not the neediest without health insurance.

So, if Grassley had delivered the same total premium subsidy reduction for the past two years, an uninsured family of four in Iowa could have had an annual premium subsidy of $6,620. In Nelson’s Nebraska, a family of four would have had a $6,240 premium reduction for the past two years; while Conrad, “Mr. Co-op,” would have delivered $34,520 a year to the uninsured family of four in North Dakota.

Alan Roebke

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