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Election 'chickens' coming home to roost for farm bill debate

It must have been a lot of fun to show up at meetings in the summer of 2010 and bash your sitting congressman or senator. No one knows how many video clips were shot of Tea Party members shouting down members of the U.S. House and Senate, some of whom had put their careers on the line for farmers.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak, and, for the first time in decades farmers are faced with the very real possibility of not having a new farm bill or much chance of an extension of the current legislation when the 2008 law expires later this year.

By now, most of you have seen reports of the new federal budget proposed by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. The proposal would cut $33 billion from federal farm programs or about $10 billion more than the House and Senate Agriculture Committees proposed last fall.

Unlike previous years, this time the House of Representatives is filled with freshman members who have little or no sense of the purpose of farm programs or the stability they provide to agriculture. All most of them know is they think they have a mandate to cut federal spending.

House and Senate Democrats have tried to point this out in their statements about the Ryan budget. Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., and ranking member of the House Ag Committee, said farmers could pretty much kiss any chance of a new farm bill goodbye for this year.

Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and one of the principal authors of the 2008 farm bill, said the Ryan budget poses real threats to programs such as health care and farm programs for residents of his state of North Dakota and the nation.

“The cuts to agriculture programs will especially hurt North Dakota, and would pull the rug out from under thousands of hard working farm and ranch families,” he said in a statement released by his office.

Conrad said the Ryan plan “is a mix of deep reductions in federal spending and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. It calls for cutting federal support for education and job training programs, energy and infrastructure programs, Pell grants for college students, and health care programs, including Medicare. 

“The House Republican proposal also upends a bipartisan agreement on the amount of federal support for agriculture programs and will make it extremely difficult to craft a new farm bill this year.”

As Conrad notes, the Ryan budget calls for about $180 billion in cuts in the USDA budget, including $31 billion to commodity and crop insurance programs, $133.5 billion to nutrition assistance programs, and about $16 billion to conservation programs. That’s in contrast to last fall’s House and Senate agriculture committee proposal to cut $23 billion in agriculture, conservation and nutrition program funding.

"We had an agreement on what the savings would be out of agriculture and then Congressman Ryan comes along and throws that agreement out the window," Conrad said. "In order to get this farm bill done now, it's going to require House Republicans to tell Congressman Ryan that his plan goes way too far and that they're not going to go for it."  

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