Depending on who's counting, the Senate has approved a fiscal 2006-2010 budget resolution that would require agriculture spending cuts from $5.2 billion to $6.2 billion less than President Bush proposed in the budget he submitted to Congress in February.
Senate Republicans agreed with a request by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to put agriculture's share of the deficit reduction efforts at $2.8 billion. The president's proposal reportedly would have resulted in savings of an estimated $8 billion to $9 billion over five years.
The House-passed budget plan requires agriculture spending cuts of $5.3 billion over five years despite the efforts of Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and other farm-state congressmen to reduce the figure to the level in the Senate version.
Chambliss said the Senate vote maintains authority for the Senate Agriculture Committee to look for deficit reduction within different areas of agriculture spending without changing the current farm bill.
“I was at the table when the 2002 farm bill was negotiated for our farmers, and we are going to keep the current policy of the farm bill in place,” said Chambliss. “I would rather not have any cuts, but being fiscally responsible is just as important as writing a good farm bill. We are going to be fair and equitable in every area.”
Chambliss said the Senate resolution version of a $2.8 billion share for agriculture out of all federal spending cuts means less government borrowing which can lead to favorable interest rates for farmers and ranchers.
The House plan, which was approved by a vote of 218-214, would require $707 million in savings in fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1. After failing to pass amendments that would have reduced the agricultural reductions, Rep. Emerson voted against the budget resolution.
The Senate blueprint would require $171 million in mandatory cuts for fiscal 2006.
Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., offered an amendment that would have removed any cuts in agricultural spending from the budget plan, but the measure was defeated by a vote of 54-46.
“We are very disappointed the Senate rejected this amendment to eliminate the huge cuts in agricultural spending called for in the Senate budget legislation,” said Dave Frederickson, president of the National Farmers Union.
“Congress and the president made a commitment to rural America in the 2002 farm bill to adequately fund farm, nutrition, conservation, research and rural development programs through 2007. Passage of this budget reneges on that promise and re-opens the farm bill after three years.”
The Senate budget also contains non-binding “Sense of the Senate” language that “any reconciled mandatory agriculture savings required under this resolution should be primarily achieved through modifications to the payment limitation provisions of the Food Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.”
Leaders of the House and Senate, which recessed for the Easter holidays following the votes, must select a conference committee to resolve the differences in their approaches to deficit reduction.
In other budget developments, the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter to the Senate and House agriculture committees and appropriations committees laying out reasons why Congress should maintain or increase discretionary funding for several agencies and programs.
“Farm Bureau has identified three areas as priorities for discretionary funding in fiscal year 2006,” the letter said. “They are: BSE and animal identification, programs to increase agricultural exports and crop protection.”
The letter includes specific dollar budget requests and explanations about what shortfalls in funding will mean to American farmers and ranchers. This funding is separate from mandatory funding voted on in the budget resolutions of both the Senate and House before the Easter recess.
The letter also said funding for Biotech Regulatory Service personnel and activities are essential for ensuring public confidence and international acceptance of biotechnology products.