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"Cottoning" to GOP

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When Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton) finds common ground with conservative lawmakers such as Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), well, that in itself is news.

But Frank is no fan of agricultural subsidies for well-to-do farmers, never has been, and the only thing worse than subsidizing our own wealthy farmers, to his way of thinking, is subsidizing those of some other nation. It is on that issue that Frank and his GOP colleagues found common ground.

The World Trade Organization, after listening to years of grievances from Brazilian cotton farmers (the dispute goes back to 2002), agreed that U.S. subsidies to its own cotton farmers put others at a competitive disadvantage. There would, of course, be a price to be paid if that continued and the WTO could authorize retaliatory measures, including the suspension of intellectual property rights.

Frank pointed out in a statement issued at the time, "The sensible thing for us to do with the WTO finding - which unfortunately for American cotton farmers is clearly correct - would be to reform our own inefficient system of spending millions of dollars a year to subsidize cotton farmers, many of whom are quite wealthy."

But the Obama administration did not opt for the sensible solution. It opted instead to send $147.3 million a year for the next several years to Brazilian cotton farmers in order to continue to pay about $3 billion a year to "large U.S. agribusiness," according to a letter sent by Frank, Flake, Ryan and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Ariz.) to the president.

Yes, this is insane. And under the Obama administraton's plan, there would be no hope of fixing it until the 2012 farm bill.

Frank points out that not only is this a bad deal for taxpayers - whose dollars are funding cotton growers on two continents - but for consumers, who are paying extra for every towel and T-shirt made with the stuff.

So Frank and Flake have filed legislation to at least resolve the situation in the near-term by reducing the payments to U.S. cotton farmers by the $147.3 million being sent to Brazil (or maybe split the difference).

Seems fair to us. And more importantly it would be fairer to taxpayers.

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