Farm fascination, budget bull, and annoying alliteration
A HEAD FAKE, NOT A FLIP-FLOP. I would strongly caution everyone to interpret the news of massive cuts to farm subsidies in the president's budget proposal very, very skeptically. From people I've talked to who are gearing up for the budget fight this year (and it is indeed going to be a huge fight), it's pretty clear that the proposed cuts to farm subsidies are a perfect example of what Mark Schmitt has described as cuts that are dead on arrival and that the administration knows are dead on arrival. They're fake. The administration has no intention of pushing for cuts in the very farm subsidies it expanded in the president's first term; this is meant merely as a cosmetic demonstration of the president's seriousness about deficit reduction and fiscal austerity. Farm subsidies may be a weak claim, but they're backed by a strong client, and they're not going anywhere.
Indeed, beyond the fake cuts the administration has specified in today's budget proposal, you might very well hear more about measures meant to limit farm subsidies as the House and Senate work on their budget resolutions in the coming months. Those limits will be fake as well. It might work like this: The congressional budget resolution may include entitlement caps in the reconciliation instructions it sends to all appropriate committees. So the Senate Agricultural Committee may need to cut a specified amount of money from the mandatory spending programs in its jurisdiction. That includes farm subsidies, which will be what everyone writes about when covering the budget process. But what is another entitlement program that falls under the Ag Committee's auspices? Food stamps. Take a guess which program -- food stamps or farm subsidies -- will get hit harder if committee chairman Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is faced with a required entitlement cap. You get the picture.
UPDATE: I now see that Ed Kilgore had this covered yesterday. As a general rule of thumb, for both the president's proposal and the future congressional budget resolution, the structural budget process rules they manage to slip in -- entitlement caps, global spending caps, one-sided PAYGO measures, and the like -- are where the real action will be. Those rules will be worth paying attention to, because the really painful and long-lasting cuts are going to come from them down the road, leaving no lawmakers' fingerprints on the destruction.