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LETTER: Reagan did not help farmers in '80s

To the Editor:

Michael Kirwan's letter on March 1, praising President Reagan for his support of farmers during the 1980s farm crisis, gives credit where credit is not due.

Yes, as Kirwan stated, farmers were decimated by the high interest rates of the 1970s. However, presidents do not control interest rates; the Federal Reserve does. Fed Chairman Paul Volcker actually started addressing inflation and high interest rates during the Carter administration. In fact, members of the Reagan administration often complained about the tight monetary policies which some say caused the early 1980s recession.

Furthermore, Reagan's actions actually worsened the crisis. In 1982, as noted in The Daily Republic's article on Feb. 15, Congress allocated funds to assist farmers facing foreclosures (H.R. 6863), and Reagan vetoed it. Congress overrode the veto.

As I recall from reporting of the time, Reagan's Department of Agriculture (those who think our current president inappropriately ignores the law take note) refused to disburse the congressionally allocated funds to farmers. Congress sued to make the administration comply with the law. I remember this, because I was living in Ohio when Reagan was campaigning there in 1984. Ohio had been hit hard by the farm crisis. After having been dragged kicking and screaming into helping farmers, Reagan then happily took credit as he campaigned for re-election on the assistance Congress provided.

In his next term, Reagan continued to obstruct congressional efforts to assist farmers being driven off the land, vetoing the 1985 farm bill. Many Midwestern economists complained that Reagan never understood or accepted the depth of the problem. Abner Womack of the University of Missouri stated, "Farmers can't get anything done in Washington until we can convince the administration that we have a national problem that affects much more than farmers."

Reagan's policy goal was to reduce spending on farm programs, and perhaps that was a reasonable thing to do. However, let's not pretend that he was doing farmers any favors in the process. The 1980s were a decade-long disaster for family farmers that Reagan did little to nothing to fix.