In a press briefing on the USDA portion of the administration’s $2.13 trillion budget plan, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said that the FY2003 budget calls for $74.4 billion in USDA spending, an increase of $11 billion over the FY 2002 budget submitted by the president last year.

“The proposed budget reflects the Bush Administration’s commitment to support an additional $73.5 billion over 10 years for farm programs,” said Veneman. “This is to meet our pledge of a generous farm bill based on sound policy.”

She said that the proposed USDA budget also supports the goals outlined in the Bush administration’s policy book, Food and Agriculture Policy: Taking Stock for a New Century, released last summer.

“This budget funds the key priorities for USDA, supports the House and Senate budget resolutions for farm spending that were passed last year, strengthens homeland security and infrastructure protections — what we talk about as pests and animals and food safety and the research that supports those things,” she said.

“It supports trade expansion, providing tools for our producers to export. It provides record-level nutrition safety nets for families who need assistance. It promotes good conservation and environmental stewardship. It helps rural communities. And it expands initiatives to ensure that we make government work better.”

In her comments, Veneman noted that the House-passed farm bill stays within the $73.5 billion figure for additional spending contained in the House and Senate budget resolutions passed last spring while the bill pending in the Senate does not.

But she stopped short of endorsing quick passage of the House bill by the Senate to get a farm bill through conference and to the president for his signature.

“The House bill is a good bill, but there are elements in the Senate bill or in the Cochran-Roberts amendment, such as farm savings accounts, that we feel are beneficial, as well,” she said. “Whatever the Congress passes, we think, must be consistent with the administration objectives of increased trade.”

Rather than a breakdown for spending on commodity programs in FY 2003, the administration budget includes “plug-in” numbers of $4.2 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 and $7.27 billion for the new fiscal year.

“We have not pre-determined how that spending will ultimately come out because that’s the Congress’ responsibility,” she said. “But certainly those numbers will be adjusted to reflect what the Congress does in a farm bill.”

She repeated her comments that she made at a meeting with Farm Service Agency employees in Georgia that USDA is committed to implementing the new farm bill “as quickly as possible” once it is signed by the president.

“The administration is committed to getting a farm bill passed as quickly as possible and implemented as quickly as possible,” the secretary noted. “We believe that there will either be a new farm bill that impacts 2002 crops or a supplemental bill. One way or the other there will be additional spending for the 2002 year.”

Veneman also announced that the budget proposes a $146 million increase for programs to protect the nation’s food supply from animal and plant pests and diseases, strengthen food safety programs and support specific research activities. In his State of the Union address, President Bush stressed the need for more homeland security protections.

“This budget builds on our efforts to protect agriculture and the food supply from intentional and unintentional risks,” Veneman said. “This increase, along with $328 million in supplemental funds provided in the 2002 Defense Appropriations Act, provides needed resources for more border inspectors at ports of entry, increased security at our laboratories and new research into emerging diseases that threaten crops, livestock and our food supply.”

In addition, “The 2003 budget reflects our commitment to a nutrition safety net by including a record $41 billion for domestic nutrition assistance programs, such as the Food Stamp, Child Nutrition and the Women, Infants and Children programs,” Veneman said. “The budget also allows for more than $2 billion in contingency funds to cover any unanticipated increases in domestic feeding program participation levels.”

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