Cotton producers should be preparing to write and write often as Congress begins crafting a reduced fiscal 2005 federal budget when it returns to Washington later this month.
Although the National Cotton Council was successful in preserving farm program spending against a number of challenges in 2003, the task could be even more formidable because of election year politics, says the NCC's senior vice president for Washington operations.
“The White House has already announced intentions to propose spending reductions as part of the president's fiscal 2005 budget proposal,” said John Maguire, speaking at the opening session of the Council's Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.
“Even though spending on agriculture accounts for less than 1 percent of total federal spending, farm programs will likely be included in the proposed budget cuts.”
Maguire told cotton producers they can expect more proposals to “save money” by modifying farm programs or by the now annual proposal to reduce payment limits when Congress begins debating the new budget proposal.
“Some members continue to believe commodity programs ought to be strictly limited because they mistakenly believe that a single policy fits all commodities and farming operations,” said Maguire. “Others want to cut funds from production agriculture and move them to conservation, nutrition or other more politically attractive programs.”
He said stronger commodity prices should significantly reduce farm program expenditures in 2004, but — rather than getting credit for those — farmers are likely to see more pressure for change because of the growing federal budget deficit.
“The Council will continue to work with all agriculture and allied organizations to effectively defend commodity programs and other key provisions of the new law,” he said.
“We will build and maintain coalitions and continue to speak up for production agriculture.”
Last year, more than 80 organizations, including farm, conservation and nutrition groups, joined together to urge Congress to keep the current law — as written in the 2002 farm bill — during the fiscal 2004 budget debate.
“These groups told Congress that the new farm law is balanced in its approach to production, conservation and nutrition program funding and that groups should be encouraged to work together and not be pitted against one another.”
Maguire said the Council will also continue to respond to criticism of farm programs in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal “though it's impossible to have a fair hearing when industry responses to lengthy, biased, serial editorials are limited to 100 words.
“We are all frustrated by the inaccurate, biased attacks on farm programs generally and cotton specifically,” he said. “Incredibly, farm programs have been cited as fostering terrorism and contributing to obesity.”
The Council and other farm organizations don't have the financial resources to launch an all-out rebuttal to such attacks. “We can and will continue to respond when provided the opportunity and most importantly we can continue to educate those who write and administer our laws.
“That's why the Council works so hard to continuously provide accurate and timely information to members of Congress and their staffs.
“That's why we continue to urge those of you who rely on this industry for your livelihood to be politically active; to know your representative, your senators and their aides; and, to know how and when to contact them to express your views.”