One of the first to blast the Bush plan – which increases the overall USDA budget by 5 percent, but reduces discretionary spending by 8 percent – was the president of the National Farmers Union.

"The huge tax cuts for the wealthy have come home to roost on the backs of American farmers," said the NFU’s Dave Frederickson. "Just as we feared, agriculture is footing the bill for the record tax cuts adopted in the FY04 budget and the president's effort to make these cuts permanent."

Frederickson said that despite spending increases for food safety and Homeland Security functions within the agriculture budget, the Agriculture Department will take the largest hit of all cabinet-level departments in the president's FY05 budget proposal.

The Bush proposal calls for discretionary agricultural spending to decline by $1.7 billion, or more than 8 percent compared to FY04 and more than 12 percent compared to FY03.

In a press briefing yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman outlined a $4 billion or 5 percent increase in the overall USDA budget, but confirmed that most of the increase will go to homeland security and food safety programs.

Frederickson said USDA’s core programs will see anything but an increase. In the president's proposal, for example, rural development programs are slashed $244 million compared to FY04 and nearly $560 million compared to FY03.

"The rural economy has been in a downward spiral since 1998, and it has never fully recovered," he said. "Rural development funding is so important because when rural communities dry up, we never really get them back."

Under the Bush proposal, according to Frederick, conservation programs would take a $120 million hit and agriculture research would be cut $64 million compared to FY04. Section 32 funds, which are important in providing fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products for nutrition programs, would be cut $85 million.

The administration's proposal also decreases funding for P.L. 480 (Food for Peace) by $160 million.

"The administration's FY05 budget proposal is going the wrong direction when it comes to agriculture," said Frederickson. "Now is not the time to be reducing funding for valuable food and agricultural programs."

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