Congressional budget committees on May 8 will tell Congress how much it can spend on farm subsidies through the year 2002 - and it may be bloody, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said Thursday in Spokane.
Congress likely will adopt a compromise that will ease farmers off subsidies that taxpayers pay to regulate food production and boost exports, said Dean Kleckner, head of the nation’s largest farm organization.
“The plan is to move the country toward a balanced budget, and that means cuts,” said Kleckner, a longtime confidant of farm state congressional members.
Kleckner, who for nearly a decade has headed the organization of 4.5 million farm family members, spoke to about 40 farmers and others at Cavanaugh’s Inn at the Park.
He said members of the budget committees told him recently that they will give the Senate and House agriculture committees until July 14 to reach an agreement on what programs to cut to meet budget.
That means the committees have about two months to make decisions that could affect 2 million American farms and possibly alter the nation’s supply of wheat, corn and other commodities into the next century.
Wheat growers and other commodity groups were heartened earlier this week when President Clinton said he would veto any plan to dramatically reduce federal farm subsidies. The president’s budget calls for a modest cut of $1.5 billion in farm programs over five years.
But Kleckner, an Iowa hog and soybean farmer, believes that speech, given in Iowa, was groomed for voters in one of the nation’s earliest presidential caucuses.
“Clinton’s proposal isn’t going to fly politically because it shows preference to farmers over the rest of the nation,” Kleckner said. “It may sound good in Iowa, but I don’t think it’ll work in Washington, D.C.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture this year expects to pay farmers $10 billion to boost incomes and reimburse them for idled acres and conservation farming. The spending is less than half what farmers received nine years ago.
However, many in Congress say that’s still too much.
Kleckner predicted that Congress would cut $5 billion to $10 billion from agriculture programs. He also predicted the cuts will trigger an exodus from those programs.