WASHINGTON (B)--House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest said Feb. 10 that he sees the Clinton administration's farm aid proposal "going nowhere" because the dollar amount is too small. Combest's remarks, which came at Capitol Hill press conference, are another indication that farmers may receive a whopping bailout package from Congress this year.

In its fiscal 2001 budget request released Feb. 14, the Clinton administration requested an extra $5.7 billion in aid for farmers still struggling from low commodity prices.

"I just don't see any support for it," Combest, R-TX, said Feb. 10 about the package.

The reason for its inadequacy, Combest argued, is that the proposal only contains only about $3 billion in income assistance payments, with the rest consisting of other,

less effective, types of aid.

Last year, farmers received about $6 billion in income assistance payments and about $3 billion in other forms of aid, for a total package of roughly $9 billion.

"I don't see, given the way pricing is today, that it (the assistance package) can be a third of what we gave them last year," Combest said.

Clinton's income assistance proposal is called a "counter-cyclical" program in that it distributes aid when farm income dips below 92% of average income for the previous five years.

In contrast, last year's aid was distributing by increasing subsidy payments under the AMTA program, one of the government's main vehicles for delivering aid to farmers.

Combest criticized the proposed switch in delivery systems, saying it could cause snafus in distributing aid.

"You would be looking at major delays in getting that money out," Combest said.

The chairman would not specify how much emergency aid Congress should allocate farmers this year. However, he said other existing programs besides AMTA could be used to distribute aid.

One such vehicle could be the Loan Deficiency Payment (LDP) program, which has been popular with farmers as commodity prices stay low, Combest said.

In addition, Congress needs to do what it can to help farm exporters compete in world markets. The EU's unwillingness to dismantle its farm export subsidy program means the U.S. should consider if it wants to increase its export subsidies, which have been low in recent years.

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