Deficit Reduction Act of 2005--Conference Report

Date: Dec. 20, 2005
Location: Washington, DC



Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I will say nice things about the Senator from North Dakota, so it can come from either side.

I rise in support of S. 1932, the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005. Yet I must express some serious concern about the final results of the agriculture title which was negotiated by the House and Senate leadership. It was ultimately decided upon, frankly, by the leadership of the other body, but we would not be where we are today without the leadership of Senator Gregg as chairman of the Budget Committee.

This has been a long and very arduous process that we have gone through. It has taken us literally almost 12 months to get to where we are today. I think, at the end of the day, we are hopefully going to pass a meaningful deficit reduction package that, while not perfect, does move us down the road to getting our fiscal house in order.

I say to Senator Conrad, who is a member of the Agriculture Committee, that while he didn't agree with what we were doing relative to budget reductions in the agriculture title of the bill, during the committee markup, he was very cooperative and allowed the committee to expeditiously report our title to the budget committee. That is a sign of leadership where, even when we disagree, we can still do what is best and that is bring up issues such as this for debate. For that I commend Senator Conrad and thank him for his cooperation in that regard.

The good news is that the reductions contained in the conference report will reduce the Federal Government's overall deficit and borrowing. Unfortunately, the reductions in the agriculture title are not balanced nor fair. I stated throughout the reconciliation process that my ultimate goal was for all components of the farm bill--commodities, conservation, and nutrition--to be fairly treated. This package does not accomplish that goal.

I am pleased the final package maintained the Senate position of no reduction in the Food Stamp Program. At the end of the day, we decided that was fair and equitable because the Food Stamp Program benefits not just those people who need food stamps, but it is also extremely beneficial to farmers.

However, continued insistence of no extension of the commodity title of the farm bill by the leadership of the other body, the White House, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has resulted in a package that now contains obvious inequities.

The Senate strived to preserve the agriculture baseline for all farm bill programs with temporary cuts over multiple years. In doing so, commodity programs, conservation, research, and rural development would have contributed in an equitable manner to deficit reduction. These options, along with the extension of the farm bill, would have protected the baseline, treated all components of the farm bill equally, and provided security for farmers in future years. However, the leadership of the other body insisted on concentrating deep temporary cuts in the 2006 crop-year only, rather than slight multiyear, across-the-board cuts to commodities which would allow us to have several options to extend the commodity program baseline as with conservation.

I cannot agree to impose such a heavy financial burden that hits producers still reeling from a season of crop loss and double costs for irrigation, fertilizer, and diesel. Until the bitter end, the leadership of the other body rejected several Senate alternatives, forcing the conference committee to drop multiple-year commodity program reductions.

The imbalance of this package is apparent on its face. While the baseline is preserved for some conservation programs through extension in the law, the House Agriculture Committee opposed similar treatment for the commodity title. This final package contains a short-term reprieve from cutting crop payments, which means commodities will not be protected like conservation during reauthorization. This will be a big problem for farmers as Congress begins to write the farm bill in 2007. The constant critics of agricultural programs will blame farmers for escaping their share of deficit reductions, as commodity support programs are about to be considered for reauthorization.

In addition, budgetary pressures on the next farm bill will be enhanced just as negotiations should be concluded in the World Trade Organization. We have already seen our trading partners and nongovernmental organizations target one commodity, cotton, which is widely grown in my home State of Georgia, with many other commodities within their target sights. With little shared sacrifice in budget reconciliation, I am concerned that critics at home and abroad will note that the United States has not moved forward on true reform and will call for deeper and more binding commitments in order to enforce the minimal amount of discipline.

We cannot say with the same vigor as we did when the Senate passed S. 1932 that the United States is already reducing the overall level of trade-distorting domestic support. Those who have successfully challenged our farm programs will be given added incentive to attack other commodities, and this may, and likely will, have an even more serious and severe impact on family farms across the country.

The conference agreement includes reductions for fiscal years 2006 through 2010 for commodities, conservation, energy, research, and rural development programs. Specifically, it includes no extension of commodity programs and no across-the-board cuts for commodity programs. It reduces direct advance payments to 40 percent for the 2006 crop-year and to 22 percent for the 2007 crop-year. The Cotton Step 2 Program is terminated effective August 1, 2006.

The Milk Income Loss Contract Program is extended for 2 years at a cost of $998 million but is not subject to the 2.5-percent reduction offered and proposed by the Senate.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is extended in law to 2010, but the funding is reduced $1.27 billion in fiscal years 2007 through 2009. It is increased to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2010.

The Conservation Security Program is extended in law to 2011, but baseline funding is kept at $1.954 billion for fiscal years 2006 through 2010 and at $5.65 billion for fiscal years 2006 through 2015.

Additionally, funding for the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program is rescinded.

The Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program is limited to $3 million in fiscal year 2007. Unspent obligated funds from prior years from the Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grant Program and the Enhanced Access to Broadband Telecommunications Services in Rural Areas Program are rescinded.

Funding for the Rural Business Investment Program and the Rural Strategic Investment Program and the Rural Firefighters and Emergency Personnel Grant Program are also rescinded.

Authorized funding for the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems is eliminated for fiscal years 2007 through 2009.

Had the commodity title shared more equitably in the deficit reductions, these programs that are being rescinded, would not have experienced such deep cuts.

My deepest disappointment is with the lost opportunity of this negotiation. We had the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to balancing the equities among all interests involved in the farm bill and establishing the trust that will be needed to reauthorize the farm bill in 2007. However, this process, once again, confirms my steadfast admiration for America's farmers and ranchers who are willing to share in reducing the deficit burden on their children and their grandchildren.

I want to reiterate my intent in reauthorizing the next farm bill to provide a balance to all of America's agricultural interests and end with a product that protects all of agriculture in rural America.

I close with one quick comment on the WTO negotiations which concluded in Hong Kong over the weekend but are not totally concluded at this point in time.

I commend Ambassador Rob Portman, our U.S. Trade Representative, and his staff, particularly his Chief of Staff, Rob Lehman, who have worked so hard since Ambassador Portman was appointed to this position to try to ensure that while American agriculture participated in the discussions relative to trade-distorting issues at the WTO, he never, ever made a commitment that would sacrifice the interests of American agriculture.

It is unfortunate that once Ambassador Portman put a meaningful proposal on the table to end the discussions with the European Union, the European Union made a conscience decision that they did not want to see any change in their substantive program from an agricultural perspective. Therefore, the European Union basically brought down the talks leading up to Hong Kong, and I do not think we could say in any way that anything meaningful came out of the discussions that were concluded in Hong Kong over the weekend.

It is my hope that the European Union will go back to the table and engage in meaningful discussions that hopefully will lead to some agreements that will be of benefit both to farmers in the European Union and obviously, from a parochial standpoint, farmers in the United States. I firmly believe that the future of American agriculture lies in our ability to export what we know to be the finest agricultural products grown anywhere in the world.

I yield the floor to the Senator from North Dakota.