Friday, April 03, 2009

Congress rebuffs Obama on a farm subsidy limit; he meets with a key rural Democrat to mend fences

President Obama knows he made a mistake in proposing to cut off farm subsidies to households with sales of more than $500,000 a year, an idea that didn't survive in the budget resolutions the House and Senate passed this week, reports David Rogers of Politico.

Obama "hurt himself strategically by coming forward with what the administration now admits was a poorly conceived plan," Rogers reports. "Critics argued that this would affect even moderate-sized Midwest producers, and to help preserve rural support, the House resolution leaves the farm program intact, with none of the changes proposed by the White House." The Senate called for money-saving changes in crop insurance, which Obama had proposed.

Rogers reports that Obama met at the White House last Friday with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who "had opposed the president’s stimulus bill in February but backed the budget despite continued anxiety over the projected deficits."
The White House and allies in the farm community were worried “we were getting off crosswise with the president and agriculture, and that would be a problem long-term if we got off on the wrong foot,” Peterson told Politico. “The president got to understand where I was coming from, got to know me.”

“The only thing I can justify out of this is they’re being honest,” Peterson said of the high deficits. “When I go home, I’m going to catch hell about this. But we’ve been asking for an honest budget, and I didn’t vote for most of this stuff that created this deficit.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilscak has hinted that the debate on subsidies is just beginning. "Let's see where things end up," Vilsack said during an interview with Reuters last week. He said deficit hawks in Congress would press for cuts and there are many ways to reach the goal of focusing farm subsidies on family farmers. (Read more) At the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture this week, Vilsack chose to focus his remarks on topics other than the potential fight over subsidies. He commented on a plan to buy food from struggling industries to be used in the federal food nutrition program. This plan includes $30 million in walnuts, $20 million in pork and $2 million in lamb. The plan also includes buying excess milk for the program to help ailing dairy farmers. Other topics discussed were the food safety net programs, civil rights in the USDA and the food safety system. To read his comments click here. Looking to aviod a potential confrontation the cap on subsidies the secretary stayed relatively mum, saying that, "The 2008 Farm Bill to cap farm subsidies was only a starting point, not a line in the sand," reports the Bemidji Pioneer. (Read more)

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