Criticism continues to rain down on the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce government spending by phasing out direct payments to agribusinesses with more than $500,000 in annual sales, capping payments to individual farmers at $250,000 and ending cotton storage payments.
The latest outpouring came in a letter from 39 farm organizations to the chairmen and ranking members of the agriculture and budget committees in both houses of Congress expressing “strong opposition” to the $16 billion in ag spending cuts in the administration’s 2010 budget.
But the sharpest condemnation may have come from Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., during a hearing of the Budget Committee he chairs. It occurred as Conrad, who also serves on the Agriculture Committee, scolded White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag for administration comments on the farm bill.
“I just spent the last year-and-a-half getting a farm bill passed, and we paid for the farm bill,” Conrad. “We paid for the farm bill, but precious little else is paid for around here.”
Conrad said he was taken aback to read that some were suggesting that the Food, Conservation and Energy Act or 2008 farm bill was not fiscally responsible despite all the budget offsets that went into passage of the legislation.
“We made a lot of tough choices. We raised money. We made spending reductions. So those who suggest that it is not fiscally responsible, I don’t think they are very aware of the history of how we got a farm bill passed here with 81 votes, overcoming two presidential vetoes. Reopening that at this moment is probably not a propitious way to advance this budget.”
In their letter to Conrad and the other committee chairs and ranking members, the coalition of farm groups warned the cuts “threaten, once again, to change the rules midstream on American farm and ranch families.”
The letter noted that the round of cuts is being proposed just eight months after passage of the 2008 farm bill, which at the time contained more than $7.6 billion in cuts to the safety net. That occurred despite the fact that the cost of the provisions over the preceding six years was already $21.8 billion under budget.
“You don’t change the rules in the middle of a basketball game and you don’t change the provisions of a farm bill that was implemented less than a year ago with the support of more than 500 nutrition, conservation and farm organizations,” said Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman, a producer from Texas.
“The ink is barely dry on the new farm bill, and all of the provisions have not yet been fully implemented. The bill must be fully implemented and allowed to work before changes are considered.”
The letter from the farm organizations noted that producers are already struggling to understand and comply with confusing, costly and unduly burdensome payment and eligibility rule changes that were unanticipated and far exceed what the farm bill required and Congress intended.
“The proposed budget cuts overlook the fact that producers and lenders alike have made long-term business decisions based upon the commitment made by Congress in the five-year farm bill and thus will exacerbate the current credit crisis,” the letter emphasized.
The House Committee on Agriculture also adopted and sent a budget views and estimates letter to the House Budget Committee. The letter, which outlines the ag committee’s budget priorities for the 2010 fiscal year, said the efficient implementation of the 2008 farm bill “requires a period of stability” before Congress reopens the legislation.
“The restructuring of farm and nutrition policies in of the 2008 farm bill was done in a fiscally responsible manner,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. “The current economic crisis is having broad impact on our nation and the benefits provided by that broadly supported legislation are essential to the well-being of millions of Americans.
“We urge the Budget Committee to take these points into consideration while crafting a responsible budget resolution for the coming fiscal year.”