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Stenholm sees further ag program cuts

Chris Clayton
DTN file photo courtesy of Farm BureauFormer Rep. Charlie Stenholm (left) says U.S. agriculture is evolving into a non-subsidized industry.

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SEATTLE (DTN) – Farmers should begin preparing for further cuts in farm programs because of the growing federal budget deficits, a former congressman told members of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Monday.

Former Rep. Charlie Stenholm, a Texas Democrat who served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, told farmers at the Farm Bureau annual meeting in Seattle that the federal budget challenges that likely will lead to farm-program cuts is one reason House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, is planning to hold farm-bill hearings this year for a possible bill at least three years away. Stenholm said Peterson is taking a “foresighted” view of what’s to come.

“The budget, cutting spending, means agriculture too,” Stenholm said. “There is no defense that any of us in production ag could make to say we should be exempt because we’ve already paid the bill. That dog won’t hunt, folks.”

A former ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Stenholm now serves on several fiscal-policy groups as well as lobbying for both the livestock and energy industries. Stenholm said farmers need to reprogram federal monies to the maximum benefit. He said reforms likely would focus on looking at the current insurance programs and possible new ideas.

“That’s what the chairman (Peterson) is talking about, and I think he’s right on target,” Stenholm said.

A federal debt that added $5 trillion during the Bush administration and that is projected to add another $10 trillion through 2016 simply cannot be sustained and will lead to difficult budget cuts throughout the federal government and create the need to raise additional revenue, Stenholm said. While the current economic situation likely demands that such measures are delayed in 2010, he said, Congress will have to start tackling the deficit in 2011.

“You really don’t go in and try to cut spending or raise taxes when you are trying to recover from a devastating recession,” Stenholm said.

The Farm Bureau created a federal deficit task force last year that looked at the challenges, and the task force’s findings will likely lead to policy changes for the organization. AFBF President Bob Stallman pointed to the deficit concerns in his speech Sunday, but Stallman also pointed out that agriculture has taken budget cuts in recent years while other parts of federal spending increased. Stallman’s comments are a sign that AFBF likely will resist further cuts in farm programs.

Biofuels have changed the dynamics of farm policy, but both biofuel and farm programs will face potential budget cuts, Stenholm said. The Obama administration likely will recommend cuts to farm payments in its next budget proposal, but Congress rejected such cuts last year. Still, Stenholm said, such changes will occur. More pressure could be placed on agriculture budgets after congressional redistricting following this year’s Census.

“We are evolving into an agriculture that will be non-subsidized,” Stenholm said. “Get ready for it.”

A self-described “Blue Dog Democrat,” Stenholm said he would have voted against the health-care reform bill in Congress because it does not provide enough cost savings. He said he also would have “enthusiastically” voted against the House climate bill because of the need to use all energy sources and ideas of creating a new derivatives market.

Still, Stenholm said he supports the need to create supplemental renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions even if there are questions about the science of climate change.

“I’m not joining the crowd who says nothing should be done,” Stenholm said. But he added, “The Senate will not pass a carbon-trade bill this year.”

While a climate bill is stalled in the Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to work on rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has filed a legal appeal against the EPA for its efforts. Stenholm said he agrees with the NCBA challenge.

“I do not believe EPA has the authority to do what they are attempting to do in many of these areas,” Stenholm said. “I think, ultimately, the courts are the place that will decide if the legislature (Congress) cannot find a way to reach compromise in those areas, and that’s our system. As much as I hate lawsuits, I think they serve a very valuable purpose in our government. I think the cattlemen are right on target.”

Three years ago, Stenholm and other livestock lobbyists stood almost alone when it came to defending horse slaughter. With horse slaughter outlawed, local governments are facing thousands of dumped horses while exports of live animals to Canada and Mexico, where horse slaughter is still legal, have boomed. The Government Accountability Office is now doing a study on the state of the horse industry, Stenholm said, with a report due to Congress in March.

“We now know we have a tremendous problem with these unwanted horses,” he said.


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