The Administration: Who's in the Stew?

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Last May, the U.S. wheat growers about to vote in a referendum on the Kennedy Administration's high-subsidy program for mandatory production controls, Washington Democrats issued some you'd-better, or-else threats. If the wheat producers turned down the program, their income would suffer — and the Administration vowed that it would not back any sort of substitute program to help them out. "Let them stew in their own juice," snapped an Agriculture Department official.

By an overwhelming vote, the wheat-men turned down the Administration program. According to present fore casts, the vote may mean falling prices and a loss of $600 million in income next year. But, with 1964 just around the corner and six wheat-belt Democrats up for Senate re-election (against only one Republican), national Democratic leaders no longer are talking about letting the farmers stew.

Despite all the tall talk that there would be no new legislation, the Kennedy Administration had begun working up a wheat bill before the President's death to avert a politically damaging decline in farm income. Last week President Johnson was on the phone repeatedly with congressional farm leaders, pleading for passage of a new bill before February. In St. Paul, Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman told the National Farmers Union that "a wheat program will be necessary." And in Chicago, where 5,000 farmer-delegates of the conservative American Farm Bureau Federation were holding their 45th annual convention, the Administration made a major effort at conciliating the farmer.

Now's the Time. It was the Farm Bureau, biggest of the U.S. farm organizations with 1,628,295 families, that was chiefly responsible for defeating the Administration's program of stringent controls last May with the slogan, "Freedom v. Freeman." Buoyed by its victory in the referendum and bulging with 20,790 new member families since then, the bureau still is vigorously pressing its demands for a complete Government retreat from the farm field.

"The wheat referendum may have been a major turning point in the continual battle that has been waged for many years between those who believe in an agriculture producing for the competitive market and those who favor Government supply management," said Charles B. Shuman, a Sullivan, III., farmer who last week was re-elected president of the Bureau, a job he has held since 1954. But, added Shuman, "farmers dare not be complacent and self-satisfied with the wheat victory. We must eliminate existing Government production-control devices and artificial pricing mechanisms as rapidly as possible. We may never find a better time than now."

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