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Farm groups stepping up education efforts

For most of the winter months, spokesmen for farm organizations have been talking about how educating the many new members of Congress – 87 in all – would have to be one of their top priorities.

But most of the commodity groups’ Washington lobbyists thought they would have a little more time to sit down with those freshmen congressmen and explain the facts of agricultural life to them before they began voting on real legislation.

In the last three days, farm groups have watched as Republican House members unleashed a torrent of measures that would reduce spending on farm programs by more than 20 percent during the debate over the $1.2 trillion continuing resolution or CR that is needed to keep the government from running out of money on March 4.

(The House passed a continuing resolution that contains $61 billion in cuts over the weekend. The CR now goes to the Senate where Democrats have vowed to lessen the blow on a number of programs, setting up a possible showdown that lead to the government running out of funds on March 4.)

The measure prompted a coalition of 32 farm and farm-related organizations to write a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers and ranking member Norm Dicks expressing their concern about the impact of H.R. 1, the continuing resolution.

“H.R. 1 would cut $5.21 billion, or 22.4 percent, from agriculture-related programs and operating budgets during the remaining seven months of FY-2011 (which began last Oct. 1),” the letter said. “This is more than double the 10.3 percent cut proposed in overall non-defense discretionary spending.”

The Republican leadership contends the measures are part of $100 billion in cuts they say voters endorsed when they sent them to Congress last November. (Interestingly, the leadership proposed $60 billion in cuts initially, but increased that figure to $100 billion under pressure from new members.)

Analysts have been saying there’s a disconnect between what voters were saying when they went to the polls – that they were mad at the government and upset about the economy – and the slow realization of what massive cuts in government spending could mean in real life.

Now farm organizations are rallying their members to contact their representatives to tell them they really didn’t mean that they should downsize the government all at once or try to do it in the first spending bill out of the gate.

If the farm groups are unsuccessful in getting through to those freshmen members, farmers face cuts in areas ranging from direct payments to federal Extension Service programs, according to action alerts that were being sent to farm group members this afternoon.


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