Cook vs. Combest Debates?
Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook today challenged one the nation's most ardent and articulate defenders of status quo farm subsidy programs to a nationwide series of policy debates about the programs, former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX).
Cook is the originator of EWG's heavily visited Farm Subsidy Database, which has been searched over 54 million times since November 2004. The Web site has drawn the ire of program defenders and bolstered reform efforts. EWG has used the database to make the case for shifting taxpayer money away from status quo programs, which primarily reward cotton and grain farmers. Cook instead favors shifting taxpayer resources to conservation programs that are open to all farmers and ranchers, regardless of size, in return for their help avoiding pollution of waterways, preserving wildlife habitat and for keeping land out of the hands of developers.
Farm Journal Editor and past National Press Club President Sonja Hillgren has agreed to moderate the first debate in Washington, DC this fall. Cook suggested further debates be held across the nation before farm and ranch audiences, including Combest's home state of Texas. The debates would be moderated by distinguished agricultural journalists and policy experts.
Cook wrote, "Most of the agricultural journalists and farm policy experts I've spoken with believe you'll reject the proposal I'm about to make. But here goes: I'm writing to challenge you to a series of public debates about agriculture policy, including the purposes and impacts of farm subsidies, agricultural trade, conservation, rural development, and the shape of next farm bill."
Combest was the main architect of the controversial 2002 Farm Bill, which was recently criticized in a two-part national expose in The Washington Post. He recently blasted reformers in a recent Chicago Tribune expose by calling them "the medley of malefactors who are teamed up to bring farm policy down in this country," who are united by "inverted pentagrams" and "voodoo", and who "need to understand that the real environment—as opposed to the one they are trying to conjure up—is not on their side."
Cook says he has traveled the country extensively for the past 18 months to farm-related gatherings in Minnesota, Kansas, California, Arkansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma, and has seen what he says is a "very strong interest in rural America for an open, rigorous discussion of farm policy."