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By Staff | Jul 22, 2011

Hedge ’em, hide ’em or howl at ’em, facts are facts. Trim ’em, trash ’em or trip over ’em, they still are facts.

What they aren’t is opinion, a difference often overlooked by radio foamers and politicians, especially if honest facts clash with honest opinion.

For example, on July 12, Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed talks to raise the $14.3 trillion national debt ceiling hung on whether or not President Barack Obama did his job. “This debt ceiling increase is his problem,” pronounced the speaker. Well, love him or loath him, Boehner’s statement has no basis in fact.

“In our system of government,” Jay Powell, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary in the Bush (The Elder) Administration and a scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, explained later that day, “Congress decides how much to spend and what to spend it on and orders the executive branch to do just that The executive branch has no independent role to decide which of Congress’ laws to obey and which not.”

So, in fact, the President – this one, the last one, the next one – cannot raise the debt ceiling without Congressional orders to do so and, moreover, cannot spend a nickel without Congress reaching into the public’s pocket and handing it to him.

The speaker’s understandable attempt to unconstitutionally push the heavy lifting of raising the debt ceiling onto the White House pales, however, in comparison to the thuggish theater offered by Pat Roberts, the Senate ag committee’s ranking member, during a June 28 Capitol Hill hearing.

Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow opened the hearing by noting its central concern – the state of the livestock industry. She then introduced her minority counterpart, Kansan Roberts, who launched into a less-than-factual speech that repeatedly misstated the very clear and very public record of J. Dudley Butler, the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.

Opining that livestock was “under attack” by both EPA and USDA, Roberts prefaced his harshest words by noting “I do not want to call into question anyone’s motives.”

He then, of course, did exactly that in a sarcasm-laced whipping of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and GIPSA boss Butler.

Reading from prepared remarks, Roberts claimed Butler had called the year-old proposed GIPSA rule to update the 1922 Packers and Stockyards Act a “trial lawyer’s dream” in an August 2009 speech to the Organization for Competitive Markets.

Butler, in fact, made no such reference because the proposed rule wasn’t written when he addressed the OCM gathering. Indeed, USDA didn’t finalize the proposed rule until late June 2010, more than 10 months after Butler spoke to OCM.

Here’s another fact: I was 15 feet from Butler when he gave the OCM speech. Not only did he not publicly comment on the rule – because it did not exist – he never mentioned it during an after-lunch chat or in a subsequent telephone call.

What he did say that day, however, was that the legal interpretation of the then (and still) current Section 202 of the Packers and Stockyards Act was so vague that it “was a trial lawyer’s dream,” an irrefutable fact that Roberts, or the staffer who prepared his remarks, seemed not to be bothered by.

As he rambled toward his finish, Roberts went way off-script to suggest that Secretary Vilsack “put Mr. Butler in the witness protection program.”

What did that mean? Roberts didn’t say, but his tirade ended as it began – baseless in fact and tasteless in manner.

That last thing about tasteless might be opinion. You decide; view videos of both Roberts and Butler’s remarks by following links on my website at www.farmandfoodfile.com.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.

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