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Senators say Obama budget would break contract

When the Obama administration’s fiscal 2010 budget proposals reach Congress, the agricultural portion will likely face a wall of bipartisan opposition.

Two senators — one from each party — have written a letter to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad asking him to oppose any farm program spending cuts or other attempts to reopen the 2008 farm bill.

The letter, drafted by Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln and Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, was signed by four Democrats and 11 Republicans representing states as diverse as Montana and Mississippi.

“The farm bill is a completely paid for, bipartisan product representing two years of negotiations and tremendous sacrifice on the part of production agriculture,” said Lincoln. “That agreement is not even one year old as the administration proposes reopening those portions that affect producers.”

Lincoln said she and other signers of the letter are willing to work to pass a “responsible budget that cuts the deficit” without cutting direct payments or making drastic changes in safety net programs such as crop insurance.

“We have seen tremendous participation gains in the crop insurance program over the last 30 years. More producers are properly managing their risks to the benefit of producers, consumers and taxpayers,” Roberts said. “In a time of economic uncertainty, it doesn’t make sense to put 30 years of risk protection progress in further jeopardy.”

The Obama administration is proposing $16 billion in farm spending cuts to help reduce the $1 trillion deficit that is expected to result from the passage of the $782-billion economic stimulus package and other short-term attempts to restart the economy.

Lincoln and Roberts, both members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, say the administration proposal would make no measurable impact on the budget and could put farmers at risk.

“The $16 billion in proposed budget cuts come at the expense of several carefully crafted and agreed upon programs that make up our federal farm safety net,” the letter said. “This safety net is designed to protect not only producers but also consumers, who continue to enjoy the most abundant and affordable food supply in the world.”

Last June, the authors noted, 80 senators supported the construction of this safety net by approving the conference report to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. “This farm bill was the result of months of hard work and strong bipartisan compromise that should not be dismantled through the budget process.

“The proposal to eliminate direct payments to farms with sales of $500,000 lacks an understanding about the shifting trends in America’s agriculture economy,” they said. “As farm and ranch families work to survive in today’s global market, nearly 75 percent of America’s agriculture production is generated from farm operations with at least $500,000 in annual sales.”

Basing payment eligibility rules on gross sales, as the administration proposes, also fails to recognize the economic hardships producers face due to increased input costs, the letter notes.

“Many times a producer’s input costs far exceed their crop sales. USDA’s farm income forecast for this year predicts a 20 percent decrease in income while input costs continue to greatly exceed 2007 levels. Disregarding expenses will affect a broad range of farming operations.”


TAGS: Legislative
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