House Ag panel opposes Obama on farm bill
A budget letter approved Thursday by the U.S. House Agriculture Committee asks Congress not to reopen the 2008 Farm Bill.
President Barack Obama's fiscal 2010 budget blueprint would increase food stamp benefits to 30 million Americans and reduce direct payments to farmers, phasing it out over three years to farmers with sales revenue of more than $500,000 annually.
"Our proposed views and estimates letter outlines the committee's legislative agenda and budget considerations for the coming fiscal year. The restructuring of farm and nutrition policies in of the 2008 Farm Bill was done in a fiscally responsible manner. Efficient implementation requires a period of stability," Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, said in a statement.
"The current economic crisis is having broad impact on our nation and the benefits provided by that broadly supported legislation are essential to the well-being of millions of Americans," the Minnesota Democrat said. We urge the Budget Committee to take these points into consideration while crafting a responsible budget resolution for the coming fiscal year."
The budget views and estimates letter was sent to Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C. It outlines the Agriculture Committee's recommendations for the federal agencies and programs under its jurisdiction for fiscal year 2010.
It notes that the $293 billion farm bill was supported by more than 1,000 organizations from across the policy spectrum and had substantial bipartisan support in Congress.
"One reason for these substantial majorities for the (farm bill) was that the Agriculture (and other) Committee worked very hard to ensure that any increases in spending above baseline levels were offset with reductions elsewhere," the budget letter states. The final bill saved $67 million over five years and $110 million over 10 years in baseline spending.
The current economy makes farm bill benefits "increasingly essential to many families' existence," it states, citing food stamp use hit a record high of 31.8 million people in December. Also, crop and livestock producers have seen prices drop dramatically from last summer's record highs.
"Given these political and economic realities, the committee believes that program benefits of the (farm bill) should be maintained so that families facing adverse economic conditions -- many through no fault of their own -- can be helped as intended," the budget letter states. "We believe that it would be unwise to reopen the (farm bill) to reduce program benefits -- especially through proposals similar to those that, during the (farm bill) debate, were considered and rejected."
And that includes changing the subsidy levels to farmers, a topic of much discussion during last summer's farm bill debate.
With the budget for the U.S, Department of Agriculture at $26.1 billion for fiscal 2008 and lowered to $24.6 billion for fiscal 2009, Obama would set the fiscal 2010 budget at $26 billion.
The Democratic president would reduce direct payments to farmers as part of an effort to transition large farms from direct payments provided to owners of base acres to increased income from revenue derived from emerging markets for environmental services.
"Presently, direct payments are made to even large producers regardless of crop prices, losses, or whether the land is still under production," the president's budget blueprint states. "The program was introduced in the 1996 Farm Bill as a temporary payment scheduled to expire, but was included in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills.
"The president wants to maintain a strong safety net for farm families and beginning farmers while encouraging fiscal responsibility," it states. "Large farmers are well positioned to replace those payments with alternate sources of income from emerging markets for environmental services, such as carbon sequestration, renewable energy production, and providing clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat."
Among other cuts, the president would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies and underwriting gains, eliminate cotton storage credits, eliminate the Resource Conservation and Development program and reform the Market Access Program by reducing program funding for overseas brand promotion and minimizing the benefits that large for-profit entities indirectly gain as members of trade associations who also participate in MAP.
"Our position regarding changes in program benefits does not mean that the committee should do nothing to further capture economies and efficiencies in delivering benefits," the Agriculture Committee's letter states. "Doing so is an important aspect of reducing waste in government spending."
The Ag Committee seeks efficiencies through the modernization of the Farm Service Agency's computer system. It has also offered reform to the financial markets through the Derivatives Markets Transparency and Accountability Act.
"In these tough economic times it is critically important to identify waste, fraud and abuse in government programs," the committee letter states. "Doing so is important to the nation's hard-working taxpayers who deserve value and efficiency. Every dollar of waste, fraud and abuse identified and eliminated will help our short- and long-term deficit and debt problems."
The Ag Committee will hold hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in programs under its jurisdiction, the letter said.
"I encourage the Budget Committee to honor the commitments made to our producers in the 2008 Farm Bill," said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., ranking minority member on the Ag Committee.
"At a time when our country is facing an economic crisis and commodity prices are plunging, it is important that we do the best we can to provide our farmers and ranchers with the safety net they need to continue to produce the safest, most abundant food supply in the world," he said.
Priorities of the committee include USDA implementation of the farm bill, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; modernization of the Farm Service Agency computer system; enactment of derivatives market legislation; and oversight hearings on waste, fraud, and abuse on programs under its jurisdiction.