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Forum editorial: Pomeroy's comments appropriate

North Dakota Republicans fired a shot last week in their routinely unsuccessful biennial campaign to unseat Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. A news release from the party's Bismarck office accused the seven-term congressman of insulting U.S. Secretary o...

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North Dakota Republicans fired a shot last week in their routinely unsuccessful biennial campaign to unseat Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. A news release from the party's Bismarck office accused the seven-term congressman of insulting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

"Pomeroy insults ag secretary," shouted the big, black headline of the party's holier-than-thou "news" release. "Congressman takes partisan cheap shot," said a secondary headline.

My oh my, what huffy indignation from an organization that has raised the partisan cheap shot to an art form. What irony from a political party that by its very nature and definition is partisan.

The party's shot at Pomeroy was a misfire. Pomeroy, after all, was being consistent in his advocacy for North Dakota farmers. If that consistency required a rhetorical jab at the ag secretary, so be it.

Pomeroy's comments came following a House agriculture subcommittee hearing during which an undersecretary suggested farm support programs could be "managed," and "reconfigured." That "could mean lowering" payments to farmers, the USDA official said.

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Pomeroy reacted as he should have. He objected. He is not alone. Key Republicans have pledged to protect the farm program from all cuts. Among those siding with farmers were House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, former ag committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, and Rep. JoAnn Emerson, R-Mo., who is on the ag subcommittee of Appropriations.

After hearing the implied threat to farm programs, this is what Pomeroy said:

"This is the crowd that didn't want the farm bill to pass in the first place. If Secretary Veneman could get the direction to pull apart the farm bill, she'd clap her hands with glee and say 'Where do I start?'"

Insulting? No way. It is impossible to insult with the truth. The record of the struggle to secure the new farm bill confirms that Veneman and her operatives did all they could to scuttle the bill, especially those provisions that provide a flexible safety net for production agriculture in the Great Plains. They backed off when the Bush administration made a political calculation: The new farm bill had strong support from farm state Republicans -- the same states that voted overwhelmingly for the president. He signed the bill with great bipartisan fanfare.

If USDA is using administrative shenanigans to torpedo key elements of the farm bill, Pomeroy and other farm state representatives are obligated to object. For example, the department has been reluctant to implement several specific crop programs, despite attempts by Congress to work with Veneman. In effect, congressional intent was violated and legislative remedies were necessary to force USDA to do what the bill called for.

It appears the pattern established by Veneman's USDA during the farm bill debate is still in place. She (and we must assume, her boss) didn't like the farm bill from the beginning. Now a stealthy attempt to gut congressionally mandated provisions is under way. Pomeroy is part of a bipartisan cadre of House members who are determined to preserve the hard-won provisions of a good farm bill.

Rather than criticize the congressman for telling it like it is regarding Veneman's record, the state Republican Party should be joining efforts to speak up for North Dakota farmers.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board

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