Congress again says no wholesale ag cuts

President Bush has once again asked Congress to make across-the board cuts in farm programs, and congressional leaders once again are telling the president they have no intention of doing so.

The fiscal year 2007 budget proposal the President presented on Feb. 6 includes a 5 percent reduction in all commodity payments for savings of nearly $1 billion the first year and $7.7 billion over the next 10 years. Additional savings would come from assessments on the sugar and milk programs and tighter payment limits.

As he did last year when he outlined the administration plan, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the proposed cuts are necessary to help reduce the federal deficit, which is projected to reach $400 billion in FY 2007, after hitting $319 billion in FY 2006.

“Reducing the deficit will strengthen the economy, and it will create jobs in much the same way that a tax cut would,” he said. “Farmers and ranchers across America know the importance of a healthy economy. It increases demand for their products, and it raises income. The president is committed to keeping the economy strong.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss, who led efforts to rebuff similar administration proposals for cutting the agriculture budget in 2005, said he expected Congress to reject them again.

“We will continue to work for deficit reduction that will not burden farmers, particularly after the high fuel costs and extreme weather of the 2005 crop year, and without harming the mutually-beneficial relationship between farmers and food stamp families,” the Georgia Republican said.

Expenditures drop

Farmers have been willing to share in deficit reduction in “manageable” amounts, said Chambliss, noting that crop program spending through 2005 is $13 billion less than projected by the Congressional Budget Office in 2002.

Speaking at a press briefing, Johanns said the Bush administration expects total USDA expenditures to decrease from about $96 billion to $93 billion in fiscal year 2007 because of assumptions that fiscal year 2006 emergency disaster assistance funding will not be needed again and because of its deficit reduction proposals.

Those savings, he said, would allow the Bush administration to fund “the nation's priorities,” which he defined as preparing for avian influenza, the potential fight against bio-terrorism and energy programs.

“We've been closely monitoring the very alarming spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza overseas,” he said. “USDA is a full partner in the government-wide effort to prepare the country for the potential pandemic and the worldwide effort to stop the spread of H5N1 virus at its source overseas.”

The 2007 proposal includes $82 million for avian influenza and additional $127 million for the USDA component of the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, which will bring the USDA total for the latter to $322 million.

As promised in the State of the Union Address, the president's 2007 budget also provides substantial new funding for energy programs, including $345 million for loans, grants and other support for energy projects from USDA.

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