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Stabenow, Conrad, others seek Obama support for ag budge

A letter sent to President Obama by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and eight other Democratic senators is intended to counter Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal and discourage the administration from supporting large cuts in farm programs, a knowledgeable Senate source told The Hagstrom Report today.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hagstrom Report, opposes cuts to the agriculture budget proposed by Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Stabenow organized the letter, wanting to make sure “the cuts aren’t unreasonable” and realizing the Senate Ag Committee needs resources so members can “write a strong and effective farm bill,” the source said.

The presence of Conrad’s signature on the letter also gives a clear signal that he will defend agriculture in the budget negotiations. News reports have said that Vice President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers holding budget discussions are considering cutting farm programs along with other programs, but no details of that proposal have come out. Conrad said this week that Democrats on his committee are close to a budget proposal, but that he would defer action on it because he is still hoping for a bipartisan budget agreement.

The only Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee who did not sign the letter was Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

“Following our recent discussions with you, we respectfully submit our serious concerns that the ongoing budget negotiations impose imprudent cuts at the expense of the real needs of rural America and the 16 million jobs that come from agriculture,” the senators wrote.

“Specifically we strongly oppose the extreme level of budget cuts to agriculture, equal to $48 billion, proposed by Budget Chairman Ryan and passed by the House of Representatives.”

Ryan has proposed $30 billion in cuts over 10 years to the direct payments and crop insurance programs and $18 billion in additional cuts that would most likely come from conservation programs.

In their letter, the senators pointed to droughts, floods and severe rains that have impacted planting in both the North and the South as proof that “farming is an extraordinarily high-risk undertaking,” showing that “farmers need tools to manage their risk in case of natural disasters and increasingly volatile prices.”

The senators noted not only the importance of farm subsidies, but also the need for conservation programs, support for local and regional agriculture, incentives for rural job creation and research to increase productivity.