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John Block: Two Issues

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

I have two issues to put forward today. They aren’t related, but we are going to have more discussion about each of them this year.

President Trump tells us he will put forth a tax reform plan with tax cuts. Speaker Paul Ryan also is advocating tax legislation, and one idea is a border adjustment tax that will tax imports and that will likely raise the cost of imported products. It will also raise a lot of money which we need if we are going to rebuild our infrastructure.

A border tax will shake up trade relations; however, you can argue that it would be fair because it would treat all importers equally. Many other countries have a similar tax. Let’s keep our eye on the coming tax reform debate. It could have a huge impact.

My other subject is the $71 billion food stamp program administered by the Department of Agriculture. The program eats up 70% of the agriculture budget. We spend more than twice what we spent when I was Secretary of Agriculture. There has always been concern about whether the SNAP program is what it should be. Are we wasting money? Twenty percent of that money – over $14 billion – is spent on sweet beverages, snack food, candy, and sweet desserts. It is just helping to fatten the customers. Why is the government doing this? How do we correct the problem?

One answer is to require the supermarket to become the food police. I’m not sure that is reasonable. It’s too costly and time-consuming. Can you imagine how long the line-up for the cashier would be? There isn’t any easy answer.

Tongue in cheek, I have suggested that food stamp recipients be required to weigh in. If they weigh too much, maybe no food stamps, or perhaps let them buy only fruits and vegetables.

Just kidding.  This whole issue will be debated when we write a new farm bill.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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