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Bush budget proposal faces many hurdles, revisions

Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth have been the order of the day since the announcement of the Bush administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2006.

Every organization and special interest group under the sun has been bombarding the media with comments, mostly negative, on how the budget will affect them.

There are, indeed, a lot of negatives in the proposal that President Bush says with characteristic redundancy “is a budget that's a lean budget.”

It will be interesting to see how the administration manages its stated promise of reducing an all-time record deficit, while at the same time attempting to cover the ever-escalating costs of the war in Iraq, making equally costly tax cuts permanent, and paying for a $2 trillion-plus Social Security reform program and a multi-billion-dollar prescription drug plan for the elderly.

Although it's spit in the ocean in terms of the overall money involved, apparently one way they propose to do it is by hacking money out of farm programs — an estimated $8.2 billion over the next 10 years, including $1.1 billion from the food stamp program administered by the USDA. Also, a reduction of almost 5 percent in Forest Service funds, and a $2 billion cut in USDA's discretionary spending.

More than 150 government programs would be axed, including nearly 50 in education. Oil and gas research programs would be slashed (odd, coming from an administration so beholden to Big Petroleum), along with energy efficiency programs.

The budget conveniently does not include money for the war in Iraq, which will be a supplemental request of $81 billion, or the cost of the much-hyped transition to a privatized Social Security.

Typical of comments from the ag sector: “It is wrong for the president to balance the budget on the backs of rural Americans,” said National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson.

“Agricultural programs are not the cause of the record federal deficit. If all federal program spending had been as fiscally responsible as agriculture, we would not be facing the highest federal budget deficit in our history. This is simply the wrong move at the wrong time for the wrong reason.”

The president has offered Congress “a budget that shortchanges rural America, and allows the national debt to grow year after year,” said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D.-Calif.

A common complaint in the ag sector is that this tack by the administration is akin to changing horses in mid-stream and that any changes to farm programs should be saved for the next farm bill, due in 2007. To slash programs now, farm leaders say, represents a reneging on agreements made and concessions given when the current legislation was enacted.

The reality, however, centers on the old adage: “The president proposes and Congress disposes.”

Even with a Republican majority Congress, the budget and programs that finally emerge somewhere down the line are likely to be drastically different than the Bush offerings.

Still, agriculture expenditures are a handy target for an increasingly urban Congress, and defending them will take a concentrated, united effort.

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