Agreeing to $3 billion in cuts for agriculture program funding in order to achieve a reduction in the mushrooming federal deficit “was not easy and not something I wanted to do,” says Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
“But, agriculture has always stepped up to the plate and been willing to do its fair share to reduce the federal budget deficit,” the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual conference.
The deficit reduction package reduces spending on farm commodity programs by about $1.7 billion, he noted, while still protecting the structure of the 2002 farm bill.
“That's very important. I strongly support the farm bill and believe it should remain intact until it's time for it to be rewritten in 2007.”
The package, Chambliss said, insures that cuts in conservation programs don't affect current contracts. “Only three conservation programs are impacted, and all it does is slow the rate of growth of those programs.”
No changes would be made to the government's food stamp program. “I support helping needy people trying to put food on their tables,” he said, “and this also helps farmers by increasing the food-purchasing power of these families.”
Overall, “the Agriculture Committee's package provides a balanced and reasonable approach (to deficit reduction).”
Negotiations are under way for the next meeting of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong, Chambliss noted, with the U.S. and the European Union floating proposals in recent weeks to jump-start the talks.
“I'm very pleased that our trade ambassador, Rob Portman, understands agriculture. He has been working to insure that U.S. agriculture receives stepped-up market access.”
This country's trade commitments and the federal budget situation “will drive the next farm bill,” he said. “It's a reality we have to face, and we know we have to change (the farm program). But I can assure you that it will be Congress — not the World Trade Organization or the administration — that writes the 2007 farm bill. I'm committed to writing the best bill possible for American farmers.”
Chambliss said he is “working very closely” with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to implement the treaty President Bush signed in 2001 on persistent organic pollutants. “We hope to introduce that bill very soon. We want our negotiators to have a seat at the table during talks about adding chemicals to the treaty.”
The federal Office of Management and Budget “is up to its old tricks” in trying to increase fees pesticide companies pay to register their products,” Chambliss said.
“Congress passed a good law in 2003, the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which everyone seems to be satisfied with, and I want to see the law remain in place until it expires in 2008.”
He noted also that he has co-sponsored a bill to clarify that pesticides applied according to their label are not also required to have a Clean Water Act permit.
He said he's also “closely watching” legal challenges to new regulations governing interactions between pesticide laws and the Endangered Species Act.
The senator, who had to cancel his appearance at the event, spoke to the group via a recorded message.