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Bush asks U.S. farmers to help with the deficit
Farm World Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush is asking U.S. farmers to help the government reduce the federal deficit.

USDA Secretary Mike Johanns detailed the President’s farm budget proposal during a press conference last week. The plan calls for the USDA to operate within a budget of $93 billion in 2007 - nearly $3 billion less than what is set aside for this year.

The USDA budget is divided into two sections - mandatory programs and discretionary programs. About 77 percent, or $71.3 billion, of the USDA’s proposed 2007 budget will go to fund programs that are required by law, such as nutrition assistance services, commodity and export promotions, and conservation programs.

The remaining 23 percent of the agency’s spending plan goes to discretionary programs, such as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program; rural development loans and grants; research and education; soil and water conservation technical assistance; management of National Forests and domestic marketing assistance.

Discretionary spending is estimated at $21.5 billion for 2007, or $1.2 billion less than this year.

“The President’s (farm) budget provides important resources for farmers and ranchers, while doing our part to avoid passing on the deficit to our children and grandchildren,” Johanns said. “The agriculture budget provides funds to protect America’s food supply, improve nutrition and health, conserve and enhance our natural resources and enhance economic opportunities for agricultural producers.”

The spending plan cuts more than $2 billion from commodity price support programs. The estimated budget of $21 billion for 2006 will be closer to $19 billion in 2007.

Johanns said the reductions are expected because of lower emergency disaster assistance, projected modest commodity-price improvements for some crops and the proposed legislative changes to reduce farm support program spending.

Proposed reforms, which are similar to the 2006 proposals, include: lowering the payment limit cap for individuals to $250,000 for commodity payments, including all types of marketing loan gains; reducing crop and dairy payments to farmers by 5 percent, requiring the dairy price-support program to minimize expenditures; and imposing a sugar marketing assessment to be paid by sugar processors on all processed sugar and implementing a small assessment on milk marketed by producers.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) doesn’t like the spending plan.

“It is no exaggeration to say that many farm families and rural Americans are struggling for economic survival,” Harkin said. “The President’s answer to hardship in America’s heartlands is cutting investment in rural America to make room for further tax breaks for the wealthy.”

He said Bush’s budget again contains a proposal to cap payments to the nation’s largest farms, identical to what failed to pass the GOP-led Congress last year.

“I once again welcome the President’s now annual support in February for payment limitations and sincerely hope he intends to fight for them throughout the year this time around,” Harkin said.

“When last year’s agricultural budget was all said and done, the Bush Administration and Republican Congress cuts targeted some of the most forward-looking conservation, rural development, renewable energy and agricultural research initiatives in the farm bill. I have no reason to believe things will be different this time around.”

Budget highlights include:

•$82 million - which is a $66 million increase - for domestic surveillance efforts, preparedness and response to an avian influenza emergency

•$322 million for the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative, which works to improve the safety and security of the U.S. food supply

•Energy spending, such as improving renewable energy sources and rural development efforts, will increase from $67 million this year to $85 million in 2007

•Domestic nutrition assistance funding, which pays for WIC, food stamps and school lunch programs, account for nearly $55 billion