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Farm program cuts minimal, Senator says

While admitting “I'm a budget hawk,” and that something needs to be done to get government spending under control, Sen. Saxby Chambliss says proposed cuts in federal programs, including agriculture, should be proportionate.

“Government's spending way too much of your tax money,” the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee told members of the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation at their annual conference recently, “and I'm very proud of President Bush for trying to get the budget under control.”

But the initial proposal for whacking $9 billion from the farm bill “put me in the unusual position of disagreeing with my president,” Chambliss said, “because farmers and ranchers would've been asked to pay a disproportionate share.”

In a face-to-face session with the president, he said, “I told him, ‘We made a contract with farmers and I'm not going to agree to changing policy in this farm bill.’”

After working with the numbers and shifting some money around between programs, Chambliss said agreement was reached with the Budget Committee for $3 billion in cuts from agriculture programs.

“The initial reaction from farmers was, ‘Whoa! What's going on here?’ But after talking in person with farmers and representatives of farm organizations and explaining the situation, there has been a 100 percent favorable reaction.' They understand the need to take action now so their children and grandchildren won't have to pay back the costs of benefits being paid today. This won't change farm policy, but it will help move this country toward a balanced budget.

“My commitment to the farmers and ranchers of America is that you're not going to notice any significant difference in your bottom line because of this,” Chambliss said.

He warned that the World Trade Organization (WTO) decision against U.S. cotton and in favor of Brazil “will have a major impact on every commodity in the farm bill — not just cotton. Every commodity group has got to analyze this decision carefully and make whatever changes are necessary to become WTO-compliant.”

Despite the adverse decision on cotton, Chambliss said U.S. agriculture derives “a lot more benefits from the WTO than negatives.”

While acknowledging “I was not a supporter” of GATT and NAFTA, he said trade agreements “are very important” to the United States and to agriculture.

Under the Bush administration, Chambliss said, “We've seen an entirely new attitude, one that's positive for agriculture, and if we don't have strong trade agreements, the American farmer isn't going to be able to survive in world markets.”

He said President Bush has expressed a desire to end all farm subsidies by 2010, “and I hope we can do that.” If the European Union and other trading partners with heavy agricultural subsidies will agree to eliminate their payments, “We can kick their butts in international markets.”

The average investment of the U.S. government in agriculture averages $60 per acre, Chambliss said, while subsidy payments by European Union countries and Japan are thousands of dollars per acre. “If they'd eliminate these subsidies, we could change our farm programs significantly. But frankly, I think that's a pipe dream.”

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