Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman says the Bush administration is not backing away from its position that farm program spending must remain within the limits of the fiscal 2002 budget resolution.

The secretary's statement in a letter to Rep. Larry Combest, chairman of the House-Senate farm bill conference committee, came after the Congressional Budget Office confirmed that it had underestimated the potential cost of the Senate farm bill by $6.3 billion.

Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and principal author of the Senate farm bill, has asked the House and Senate Budget Committees to increase the 2003 farm bill's additional funding for farm programs to $79.5 to cover the higher cost of the Senate bill, S-1731.

“The administration believes that the new farm bill must honor the limits of the Congressional Budget Resolution,” Veneman said. “Consistent with this Resolution, Congress should not pass a farm bill that exceeds $73.5 billion (in additional funding).”

Repeating President Bush's earlier statement that he wants a true, 10-year farm bill, Veneman said the administration continues to object to the manner in which the Senate bill allocates its funding.

“The Senate-passed bill frontloads the 10-year funding into the first five years, placing the future of farm programs in jeopardy for the second five years,” she said. “The Senate bill also sharply reduces or terminates funding for roughly 15 rural, conservation and commodity programs after 2006 in order to compensate for this ill-advised frontloading.

“We will strongly oppose any frontloaded farm bill that allocates more than $36.8 billion in the first five years.”

She said the administration also supports:

  • A farm bill that helps farmers without encouraging overproduction. “The administration continues to support marketing loan rates — an existing counter-cyclical program — that are equivalent to those contained in the House bill,” Veneman said.
  • A strong, reliable safety net. “The House bill's increased funding for fixed decoupled payments ensures farmers a consistent, predictable income safety net while maintaining market-oriented planting flexibility.”
  • Additional risk management tools to help non-program crop producers and farm savings accounts to complement traditional farm support programs. “We urge the expansion of the Senate's farm savings account pilot program in order to provide a broader base of assistance without causing planting and marketing distortions,” she noted.
  • A farm bill that promotes increased trade. “We have strongly urged that the new farm bill must support trade and be consistent with our international obligations,” Veneman said. “The House bill's fixed decoupled payments are “green box” and meet our trade obligations, while Senate provisions increase the likelihood of U.S. non-compliance.
  • Continuation of existing laws regulating the sale of food and medicines to Cuba. “We oppose repeal of the prohibition on private financing by U.S. persons of sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba.”
  • Opposition to country of origin labeling. “Provisions in both bills potentially violate international trade agreements, raise costs for consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and does nothing for food safety,” the secretary said.
  • A strong conservation title that bolsters working land stewardship, supplements farmers' and ranchers' income, improves water quality, provides wildlife habitat, conserves water and protects open space. “We have made a particular commitment to conservation programs for working lands, such as EQIP and a new Grasslands Reserve Program,” she said. “We also support growth in established conservation programs such as CRP, WRP, FPP and WHIP.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com.