Fiddling with farm bill: Budget plan eyes agriculture’s funding

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WASHINGTON – When President Bush released his 2006 budget proposal Feb. 7, the murmurs started that the proposed cuts would pry open the 2002 farm bill.
One month later, as the House and Senate ag budget proposals aired, the murmurs became a roar, and likely voiced reality.
Don’t do it, pleaded Ohio Farm Bureau county leaders visiting Washington March 8-10.
The farmers generally liked the response they received.
No, it won’t. “We’re not going to open up the farm bill, do you hear me? We’re not going to open up the farm bill,” declared U.S. Sen. George Voinovich.
Voinovich, the group’s breakfast speaker March 9, received applause for his comment.
And over on the House side, and from the other side of the aisle, Rep. Ted Strickland agreed.
“You don’t have to convince me [not to reopen the farm bill],” Strickland vowed. “A piece of legislation needs to give you some sense of predictability.”
Yes, it will. The day after the volunteer leaders returned home, however, the chairman of the Senate Ag Committee told Washington reporters otherwise in a Web cast news conference.
“We targeted some areas where we think some savings could be achieved,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who also took part in the March 12 Farm Forum in Troy, Ohio, coordinated by U.S. Rep. John Boehner.
“Nobody wants to see cuts to farmers,” Chambliss said, but he indicated the sector is “always willing to participate in deficit reduction” as long as farmers don’t shoulder an unfair share.
Spread the ‘pain’ out. Chambliss said the goal is to identify $2.8 billion in cuts “without changing the policy of the farm bill.”
He said the Senate Ag Committee will look at the three main titles – nutrition, commodities and conservation – for the cuts.
“Everybody who receives payments under the farm bill will share proportionately in the pain and not disproportionately,” Chambliss said. “We’re going to spread the pain out to everybody.”
It’s coming. The House and Senate Budget Committees marked up their versions of a budget resolution the same week the Ohio Farm Bureau leaders were in D.C.
Both committees were kinder than the president to agriculture, but not much. The House, more in line with the administration’s proposal, recommended cutting $5.3 billion from agriculture over five years; the Senate targeted $2.8 billion in cuts.
The full committee takes its cue from the respective ag committees’ recommendations.
The overall House budget plan calls for $69 billion in spending cuts and the Senate version, $32 billion.
Both chambers must pass their resolutions and the differences will have to be reconciled before the final budget vote.
The reality is the budget debate is taking place in the middle of twin deficits: the budget deficit and the trade deficit, said J.B. Penn, USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services programs, who also addressed the Ohio farm group.
Both affect the strength of domestic and foreign markets.
June 15 is the target date for the final budget.
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Bush cuts ‘unfair’

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