U.S. Rep. Bill Barrett, R-NE, said he was pleased to finally have the President at the table with a proposal to help agriculture, but said he didn't find the proposal or the rest of Clinton's 2001 budget very appetizing.
"First and foremost, the President's budget request proposes a lot of new spending, including more than 80 new programs.
"There is a budget surplus predicted for the next several years, but it is irresponsible to use that now to expand the scope and size of government. That surplus is an estimate written in shifting sand. We have to view all spending in the context that an unforeseen crisis could make the surplus vanish," Barrett states.
President Clinton submitted his final budget plan to Congress Feb. 7. For the fiscal year 2001, he proposes spending a total of $1.84 trillion. For agriculture programs, he proposed nearly $18 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending.
"It was good to see the Administration finally put together a plan to strengthen the farm safety net. After all, the President has been promising a plan since he signed the farm bill into law in 1996. This plan gives us a good place to start this year's review of the farm bill. I have a number of concerns with the President's plan, but the plan will be on the table with everything else when my agriculture committee holds hearings in the coming weeks.
"I believe the committee should consider a countercyclical payment proposal. In theory, it could provide more certainty for producers. However, U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan essentially amounts to a means test. Ag policy should never punish a producer for being successful. Also, this is a temporary, two-year plan that would provide only $3.1 billion. This is less than half of what Congress provided in 1999. And we are expecting another $10 billion drop in income in 2000," he said.
Regarding conservation, Barrett said he was glad to see some good ideas from the White House and believes there always is more to do. For example, Barrett supports raising the cap on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage from 34 million acres to 45 million acres.
But he cautioned that even with a large budget surplus, ag programs will be dividing a limited pot of extra money. Congress will have to decide if this money should directly go to producers or to fund more conservation. The upcoming farm bill hearings will provide an excellent forum to discuss this issue.
Barrett also expressed his concern with the proposed Conservation Security Program (CSP) that would pay producers who agree to put in certain conservation practices. This proposal looks very similar to the current Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) on the books. Barrett questioned the need for a new program, rather than making sure the existing one works well for producers. It is not likely the House Agriculture Committee will agree to make changes in conservation programs outside of a total farm bill reauthorization.
"There are portions of the budget that deserve praise. The President proposes to fully fund trade promotion programs, such as the Market Access Program. His plan also would provide full funding for FSA county offices, although
"I was disappointed that it didn't include funding for part-time employees. I also like the idea to freeze marketing loan rates," Barrett commented.