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4 February 2008 - Congress Better Get Rolling

Apparently President Bush got tired of waiting for Congress to finish work on the 2007 Farm Bill here in the second month of 2008, and a few days ago decided to write his own farm bill. He picked an unusual way to do it; he presented some of his farm bill wishes in his 2009 fiscal year budget bill presented to Congress.

In that budget bill, the President urged Congress to crack down on farm subsidy abusers and to protect farmer revenue against poor yields, not just low prices. He also called for an end to windfalls through manipulation of so-called loan deficiency payments, and asked for larger funding of renewable energy, particularly to derive ethanol from cellulose.

The 2007 farm bill has made little progress so far this year in Congress. We are hearing very little about the conference committee ironing out the differences between the House and Senate versions. The new Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer told the Cattlemen’s Convention audience in Reno that he is beginning to see some progress, but he didn’t sound very convincing. So the President decided to carry some of the Administration proposals into the budget bill and agricultural groups may not like some of those ideas.

He is proposing that the federal government create two levels of user-fees to help pay for meat inspection. He is also proposing cuts in some conservation programs; $360-million dollars from the “EQIP” program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which shares the cost of controlling the runoff from fields and feed lots, as well as $141-million dollars from the Conservation Security Program, the first green payment program. He says “we need to streamline land stewardship programs by combining six of them into a revamped EQIP program.”

There is one other suggestion in the budget bill however, that corn producers will favor, while livestock producers will not. There had been talk that the Administration would drop the tariff on imported ethanol from countries like Brazil in 2009, ramping up competition for domestic ethanol producers. That did not happen.

The move by the President is an unusual one, but it should send a message to Congress that it better get moving or the Bush administration may have the farm bill in place before they can put their own together. But wait a minute, I guess I can’t forget that whether it is a farm bill or a budget bill, Congress will still have the final word.
My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.