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Some Blue Dogs favor farm aid over tax cuts

President Bush may be putting a full court press on “Blue Dog” Democrats to garner support for his $1.6 trillion tax cut, but some of the Blue Dogs aren't buying it.

The Blue Dogs are moderates who may well hold the balance of power in the new Congress that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and controlled by a six-vote Republican margin in the House.

One of the moderates is Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., who spoke at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. Bush flew to Arkansas the week before the Gin Show, ostensibly to pressure Berry and the state's Democratic senator, Blanche Lincoln.

In Berry's case, it didn't work. “This $5.6 trillion surplus is imagined — it's not real,” he told the Gin Show audience. “It's all a projection in someone's computer. The $5.7 trillion debt that we owe in this country — that's real as rain.”

Berry complained that to help Bush accomplish his agenda, the House Republican leadership is putting his tax cut proposal ahead of other legislation, including efforts to pass a supplemental AMTA payment for farmers.

“It is political,” he said, referring to the decision. “What the leadership tends to forget, however, is that the food and fiber supply is a national security issue. Most of the countries that have failed throughout history have failed because they did not pay sufficient attention to food and fiber.”

Rep. Berry, who owns a farm near Gillette, Ark., said he had thought that Congress would pass a supplement Agricultural Market Transition Act or AMTA payment early in this session.

“Now, I'm not so sure,” he said. “It may be that we get a supplemental appropriations bill to help with the Seattle earthquake damage, and we can attach it (the supplemental AMTA payment) to that. I hope we can find some way to do it because I know our farmers need the help.”

One concern about the president's tax cut proposal, he said, is that any miscalculation on the government's finances could jeopardize the surplus, which has made the last three years' $25 billion in emergency assistance possible.

“Supposedly, we ran a surplus of $125 billion in the last fiscal year,” he noted. “But, we still had to delay paying federal employees until the new fiscal year last October to keep from having to borrow another $42 million. If we start running a deficit on the federal budget again, you can forget about any supplemental payments for farmers.”

Berry said it's almost certain Congress will not pass a new farm bill in 2001, again because of politics. “No matter what some of the leadership may think, we need a new farm bill. You don't want to go into the new round of WTO negotiations without a strong farm bill because the Europeans and Japanese will eat us alive.”

While most farmers would favor a tax cut, some in Berry's Gin Show audience downplayed putting a priority on the legislation. “I haven't paid any taxes in three or four years,” said a northeast Arkansas producer. “I don't think a tax cut will help me much.”


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