This is a part of America where people think the federal government spends too damn much money.
The 11-term congressman from this town, Delbert Latta, has built a career around opposition to the federal deficit. As ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, he is his party's point man in the annual budget wars. A few months ago on the House floor, he said that this year's deficit makes it hard for him to look his own children in the eye.
But there's a problem in this. Here, as elsewhere, most of the people are somehow beneficiaries of the budget.
Back into Latta's district, a farming and industrial area without any major federal installations, will come about $500 million of the $600 billion that President Carter yesterday proposed the federal government spend this year.
"you pull federal spending out of any district," Latta says, "and you're pulling out a whale of a lot of money. They've got hundreds of programs now. You can't just pull them out."
Through more than 100 programs, the government will spend more than a thousand dollars for every man, woman and child here. The money will go to farmers and philosophers, doctors and disabled veterans, paving contractors and dairy-products distributors -- most of them not really wards of the state, but all of them part of the reason the government runs in the red.
About $16,000 of Carter's $600 billion will pay the salary of Kathleen Adams, who runs the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office in the little town of Napoleon, on the banks of the Maumee River.
She, in turn, will direct to Henry Eggers, a 69-year-old farmer in Freedom Township, $130 in price-support payments for the wool from his 85 sheep. In past years, Eggers has gotten government money for his wheat, corn and soybeans as well, but lately the market prices have been high enough to make him ineligible for price supports.
And once a month, a federally funded postman will stand on Eggers' doormat, which bears the legend "we're Down to Earth Folks," and drop in his mailbox a Social Security check for $270. Social Security is by far the biggest federal program in Latta's district as everywhere else, and fully half of the federal spending here is paid out directly to people as pensions. But the spending hardly stops there.
In the tiny hamlet of Hamler, Don Wright, a taciturn man in a billed cap and plaid shirt, will sell farmers about $200 worth of federal warehouse certificates, in return for which he'll store their corn in the grain elevator he runs.
These farmers will then go back up to Napoleon to see Kathleen Adams, who will loan them government money so they can afford to keep the corn off the market until the price goes up.
Up the Maumee River a ways in Defiance, Kevin and Mark Zeller, 31-year-old identical twins who run a factory that their grandfather started, will get about $250,000 of the federal budget, in return for which they will supply cross-shaped universal joint parts to the New Postal Service and the Army dTank Automotive Command in Warren, Mich.
In the town of Grand Rapids, a bald, pug-nosed osteopath named Charles Barger, who favors brightly colored open-necked shirts, will get about $18,000 of the government's money to minister to the skin and bone problems of poor and elderly people. More than 10 percent of the federal spending here -- the next biggest chunk after pensions -- will be for health care.
That's a great help to the Wood Country Hospital here in Bowling Green, which will get about 30 percent of its revenues -- more than $2 million -- from federal programs. Bowling Green State University will get a similar sum from Washington for research projects and grants, loans and work-study programs for students.
Of the university's allotment last year, $3,160 went to Ray Browne, the cherub-faced chairman of the Popular Culture Department (where a picture of Elvis Presley hangs in the reception room) to finance a trip by 15 members of the Popular Culture Association to the headquarters of the National Endowment of the Humanities in Washington. A grant of $54,000 helped finance a three-volume retrospective edition of "the Philosopher's Index," which is being compiled by several dozen philosophers under the direction of a Bowling Green professor named Richard Lineback.
Every month, $115 in disability payments will come to Isabel Gonzalez, a wheelchair-bound woman of 58. Every weekday, she will go to a converted roller-skating rink that serves as the Wood Country Senior Citizens' Center to eat a hot meal, courtesy of Washington. Through the center, the government will pay about $1,300 a week to the Bowling Green Holiday Inn, which caters the meals and sends them over in insulated containers.
The government will spend about $20 a day reimbursing Richard Mercurio, the grouchy 62-year-old assistant manager of the IGA grocery store in Waterville, for food stamps. It will pay Carl F. Gerken, a 76-year-old contractor in Napoleon, $876,605.80 to build a sewer intercepter to clean up Van Hyning Creek and $612.80 more a month in Social Security. It will give the rural Ostego School District $6,200 to by milk for its schoolchildren.
Programs like all these make up the meat of the federal budget. While federal spending has tripled in the last decade, the money hasn't gone for what people here think of as "washington." The number of federal employees is actually slightly lower today than it was in 1969.
The areas where spending has gone up as fast or faster than the budget are "income security," health, interest on the national debt and funding of state and local govedrnments. By far the biggest category in Carter's budget -- more than 40 percent of the total -- is transfer payments to individuals: salaries, pensions grants and fees.
And far from thinking these payments are too high, most recipients here think they are too low, or have too many strings attached.
Most of them feel, correctly, that whatever they've been paid by the government is dwarfed in the long run by what they've paid in.
And they complain that too much red tape is involved in getting the money. "you name it," says Charles Barger, the osteopath in Grand Rapids, "and they've got a program for you -- until you need it. Then you might as well, excuse my language, go p -- in the Maumee River."
Don Wright, the grain elevator operator in Hamler, agrees. "if you really want to know," he says, "it's a pain in the neck, period. The government inspectors come in you have to this, you have to do that. No way are they doing me a favor."
On the other hand, most of the thosands of people in Latta's district who get money from some federal program would scream bloody murder if their payments were eliminated. Behind every dollar in the budget is some constituency, primarily made of of ordinary working and retired people, not bureaucrats.
That's why even the most ardent budget-cutting politicians usually concentrate their efforts on overall spending limits. Proposing specific cuts would be too unpopular with the voters.
To his credit, Latta, over the years, is one who has proposed some specific cuts -- in the biggest of the federal jobs programs, for example. But mostly he aims at those old favorites, Fraud and Waste. "if I were president," he says, "i'd say to every department of government, cut back spending without cutting back on services."