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Farmers offer steps to balance budget

The United States is the biggest debtor nation in the world.

Unsatisfied with this situation and how our government is handling our economy, the American Farm Bureau Board of Directors last October appointed a Federal Deficit Task Force to study the deficit and recommend steps that might bring it under control. The task force has some pretty tough recommendations for Farm Bureau members to consider as they formulate policy options for 2010.

Former Sen. Phil Gramm once said "Balancing the budget is like going to heaven. Everybody wants to do it, but nobody wants to do what you have to do to get there." My view is that the nation's economy is in pretty bad shape and unless we take action, our grandchildren will inherit a bigger financial mess than we have now.

The task force is made up of eight committee members and one state Farm Bureau president. Four of the members are what I like to refer to as "chronologically experienced," while the other four are young farmers and ranchers. Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang chaired the task force.

The demographics of the committee allow for knowledge and know-how that only comes with years of experience as a farm operator to be coupled with the optimistic perspectives of younger farmers and how they want to shape their economic futures.

According to Chairman Lang, the group had to make some tough calls on policy recommendations to get America out of its economic hole. At the end of the day, the nation's revenue is not keeping pace with our spending. We should make every effort to reduce all federal expenditures and balance our budget or Americans will need to start paying more taxes, the panel said.

The toll that health care is taking on our budget was the biggest challenge identified by the task force. They recommended a number of ways to reduce health care spending, including implementing a centralized source to coordinate medical records, utilizing incentives for results and preventive care and shortening hospital stays. The committee also recommended the AFBF policy process consider support for giving each citizen a voucher from the federal government to purchase a bare-bones, private health insurance policy.

After looking at the health care issue, the committee determined Social Security is an easier problem to fix. Although it has its political challenges, it is fixable, says Lang. The task force recommended the program should be self-financing, which can only be achieved by raising the normal retirement age and indexing it to longevity, which will lower benefits, or increase revenue to the trust fund by removing the limit on taxable earnings.

While our country does face some big obstacles, if we pull together and do what is best for the nation, sacrificing in the short-term, we can build a stronger financial future for our grandchildren.

Bob Stallman is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.