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Budget concerns top list of congressional priorities

Budget cuts, the war on terrorism, taxes and Social Security top the list of priorities for the U.S. legislature in 2005, says Randy Neugebauer, newly elected U.S. Representative for the Texas 19th District.

Neugebauer was keynote speaker at the recent Texas Commodity Symposium, an annual conference held during the Amarillo Farm and Ranch Show. “We need to permanently repeal the death (estate) tax,” Neugebauer told the corn, wheat, cotton and grain sorghum producers whose associations sponsor this event. “That tax has a huge impact on West Texas’ larger farms and small businesses and it cuts across generations and often requires sale of assets. It hurts rural America.”

He says the United States must get back to a role as a producer instead of a consumer nation. “We are no longer business friendly,” he says. He says regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as other bodies, along with taxation makes the country less efficient than some competitors. “We need to do away with the current tax structure instead of reforming it. We need a clean sheet and start from scratch.”

Neugebauer says the U.S. Congress should look at something like a fair tax. “We should consider it. Eliminate the IRS and all income and estate taxes,” he says.” He says Social Security also needs reworked. “It’s not a good system. Originally, it was designed for old age assistance for poorer citizens. It has evolved into a retirement system.”

He recommends a fix “for the next generation that would bring back personal responsibility and encourage people to save and invest.” He encourages Congress to pass a comprehensive energy bill to eliminate dependence on foreign oil.

“We have to make our country a competitive nation,” he says. Neugebauer also hopes to change the way government helps farmers overcome disasters.

“It is difficult to get ad hoc disaster programs,” he says. “That’s why I introduced a risk management tool in the last Congress. It’s better for producers and gives them something they can use to budget, unlike ad hoc payments.”

He hopes the bill will pass in 2005. “The proposal combines coverages and increases coverage. It scores well (in government costs) and producers will be able to rely on it.” He says a disaster relief bill passed last fall was difficult to get and would not have been possible without the hurricane relief package. “But we got a disaster benefit program that will benefit Texas farmers. We had to include offsets. That was a political reality.”

Funds for the disaster program came from the Conservation Security Program, but Neugebauer says the $3 billion came from a coffer of $9 billion, a significant increase over the original $3 billion included in the program. “Offsets are kicked back to 2007, after the current farm bill expires,” he says.

He says those benefits should be available soon. “The process should move quickly.” Neugebauer says appropriations fared well in 2004. “We did a better job in Congress of spending money in 2004 and came out with a $100 billion smaller deficit than we expected. But we need a sunset clause on a lot of our programs. We need to determine whether to keep them or not.”

He says even Homeland Security and Defense budgets should come under close scrutiny. “Those programs have gotten carte blanche,” he says, “but we need to put some restrictions in place and spend responsibly. Spending in Afghanistan and Iraq will decrease as their people begin to self-govern.”

He says ag priorities for the next Congress include the EQIP program, an increase for the Farm Service Agency and research funding for Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Neugebauer says the process to reauthorize the farm program likely will begin in 2005. “We could begin holding hearings this year,” he says. “It’s not too early to begin the process. We will talk to commodity associations and solicit their input.”

He says COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) also will be an issue in the next session of Congress. He expects an effort to develop a voluntary program. “If not, the original plan goes into effect in 2006. We hear a lot of differing opinions on COOL.”

Animal ID will demand Congressional attention in 2005 as well. “We hope to devise a system that will not require a producer to quarantine large numbers of animals,” he says.

Neugebauer expects payment limitations to come up in 2005. “It comes up every year and we squash it every year,” he says. “It will come up again, and we have to make the case that agriculture has been able to survive because it is productive and that has been possible because of increased size of farms. It would be bad policy to curtail productivity.”

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