Senators want to protect ag funding
FARGO, N.D. — U. S. Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota pulled no punches last week when he talked about the U.S. budget deficit and agriculture.
The country is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends, creating an unsustainable situation, said Conrad at the 2012 Farm Bill: Issues and Challenges forum in Fargo.
The ag portion of the budget isn't the deficit's cause.
"Don’t let anyone tell you the culprit is the farm program," he said. "If you exclude the nutrition portion of the ag budget, farm programs are less than 1 percent."
The last farm bill helped reduce the deficit.
Conrad is well acquainted with the budget and ag discussions. He has been Senate Budget Committee chairman since 2006 and is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Agriculture has taken budget control measures, but the nation must make decisions to control spending, he said.
"We cannot go down this road any longer," he said. "We need to make decisions. Even though they are controversial decisions, it is better than letting this cancer grow."
He suggests that those who have doubts should look at what's happening in Spain and Greece.
"The debt is a threat," he said.
Agriculture is willing to do its part, but ag leaders addressing the forum crowd called for cuts to be proportional.
"It is clear that we done it and will do our part to help with spending and deficit control," said National Corn Growers Association president Garry Niemeyer. "This is where we have a problem. No one wants to lose anything. Agriculture has stepped up to the plate to take its share of cuts — reducing its budget by $6 billion last year. We just want the cuts to be proportional."
Other ag leaders echoed Niemeyer’s thoughts.
The $23 billion in ag budget cuts is a far cry from the $48 billion first proposed in the House of Representatives, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
"It is a number I think we can work with," she said.
Klobuchar pointed to several items she said are important — strengthening crop insurance, Conrad’s efforts on revenue insurance, the dairy and conservation programs.
"My argument for the ag budget is that we don’t want to be dependent on foreign food as we have been on foreign oil," Klobuchar said.
Despite the nation’s budget woes, rural America produces jobs and has had a fairly strong economy, she said.
The budget reduction process must be bipartisan, said Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota.
Hoeven said the ag committee has worked with the deficit reduction committee in the way the budget process was intended: The select super committee was not to decide everything on its own, he said.
"All the committees would interface with the committee to find savings and reduce the debt," he said. "The joint committees should be writing the policy."
If the farm policy can be formulated now, the ag committee won’t have to write a farm bill in the middle of next year.
The ag committees have a tight timeline. The joint select committee must report its bill by Nov. 23. The bill must be voted on in both the House and Senate by Dec. 23.