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Budget draws bipartisan criticism

Agriculture.com Staff 02/07/2006 @ 12:43pm

President Bush's budget proposals for agriculture drew a lot of criticism on Capitol Hill Monday, and not all of it was from Democrats.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said it would be unfair to cut spending on farm programs and predicted that Congress won't pass Bush's ag budget.

"We will continue to work for deficit reduction that will not burden farmers, particularly after the high fuel costs and extreme weather of the 2005 crop year, and without harming the mutually-beneficial relationship between farmers and food stamp families," Chambliss said in a statement.

Chambliss pointed out that crop program spending is $13 billion less than projected for the 2002 Farm bill.

"Congress did not pass last year's 2006 budget proposals. The 2007 budget proposals are very similar, and once again unfairly target agriculture. I expect Congress to reject them again," Chambliss said.

Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee shares Bush's goal of capping farm program payments at $250,000, but said Tuesday that even if a spending cut reconciliation bill is introduced this year, opponents of the cut will say it's not the right time to make such a change to the 2002 Farm Bill.

Last fall, when Grassley tried to get a firm payment cap added to the spending cut legislation, "they were able to use that argument against me, that it's a major change to the farm bill."

Grassley said he does expect payment caps to be debated next year during when Congress will start writing new farm legislation. "It's just a better opportunity,"he said.

In a statement made after the budget was released on Monday, Grassley also applauded the Bush Administration for asking for more money to run USDA's Office of Civil Rights. Grassley said the money is needed to ensure that minority farmers and minority staffers at USDA are treated fairly.

Democrats found a lot to criticize in the ag budget.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) considers Bush's support for renewable fuels and energy conservation inadequate.

"The President called for a modest increase in R&D for biomass through the Energy Department ($59 million), but falls well short of the $200 million in funding that Senator Harkin called for through the energy bill," Harkin's staff pointed out in a statement released Monday.

"The President called for developing ethanol from sources such as corn stalks, wood chips, switchgrass and other sources in his State of the Union address, but fails to put necessary resources to address America's dependence on foreign oil."

At USDA, the President would cut farm bill research and development for renewable energy, which "will mean less wind turbines, less investment in renewable fuels and less in energy efficiency grants to help save farmers much needed money as they face soaring energy bills," Harkin said. He also criticized cuts to food aid, a 25% cut to the conservation program, EQIP (Environmental Quality Improvement Program) and weatherization grants for low-income families.

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