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Farmers taking it on chin in federal budget battle

Although it had been anticipated in some form, Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle's proposed 1 percent reduction in spending authority for every federal budget category save defense and social security sent shock waves through the ag community.

Nussle's proposal, adopted by the House Budget Committee in its FY 2004 Budget Resolution, would force cuts in farm program spending of $618 million in 2004, $5.696 billion for 2004-08 and $19.171 billion for 2004-13. All told, it would reduce farm spending by 10 percent over 10 years.

While the Budget Resolution is non-binding, the final version will set the parameters for government spending at least until the 2005 budget resolution. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 came close to matching the funding targets in the FY 2001 Budget Resolution.

Documents released by the Budget Committee, which Nussle chairs, say the funding reductions are aimed at targeting “waste, fraud and inefficiencies” in the programs overseen by the authorizing committees in Congress.

But anyone with half a brain knows that the cuts are designed to help pay for President Bush' new tax cuts, which it's estimated will cost the Treasury over $700 billion in 10 years. They also anticipate the cost of war with Iraq, although the budget resolution contains no funding for it.

In case anyone thought agriculture might be exempt, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said his committee would follow the Budget Committee's blueprint. Goodlatte, who is fast becoming known as more of a good soldier than a farm policy leader, noted his Committee has “traditionally complied” with the budget resolution.

Agriculture would be hit harder under the House Budget Committee plan because it got an increase in spending from the 2002 farm bill due, in part to the impact of misguided government policies.

The fact that farmers could benefit from little more than a year of the legislation makes a sad statement about the integrity of Washington leaders who boast of helping family farmers while cutting their funding through the back door.

As the shock waves reverberated, other congressmen were lining up to fight the Budget Committee plan. Arkansas' Marion Berry, for one, said the proposal “would rip huge holes in the safety net” included in the 2002 farm bill.

Cotton and rice state senators, meanwhile, were preparing to try to defeat the Senate Budget Committee's proposal, which contains no cuts in farm bill funding other than yet another effort by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to tighten the screws on southern farmers.

Grassley's latest amendment increases the payment amounts individual farmers could receive, but eliminates the three-entity rule and generic commodity certificates. The savings from his proposal would be used to restore funding to the Conservation Security Program that was cut in the Bush administration budget.

No one wants anything but the best for our soldiers and airmen who, by all accounts, appear to be on the verge of launching an attack on Saddam Hussein. But it can't help but be galling to farmers that, once again, they will be made to pay for their country's foreign policy mistakes.

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