We're not sure what Saxby Chambliss is running for other than to keep his Senate seat from Georgia. But there's little doubt many Sun Belt farmers would vote for him following his handling of President Bush's proposed budget cuts for agriculture.
According to Washington reports, Chambliss went to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jud Gregg, R-N.H., and persuaded him to reduce the budget cuts for agriculture from the president's proposed $4.49 billion to $2.8 billion over the next five years.
Chambliss, new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he would have preferred no cuts be made. But, he said, he, too, believes in deficit reduction, and $2.8 billion would not be disproportionate to the cuts in mandatory spending other committees will face.
Unfortunately, House Agriculture Committee leaders were not as persuasive as Chambliss. The House Budget Committee plan calls for the Agriculture Committee to reduce mandatory spending by $5.4 billion over five years.
Chambliss said the Senate Agriculture Committee has not made any decisions about how to achieve the $2.8 billion in cuts, but that he believes all programs should pay their fair share of the proposed fiscal 2006-2010 reductions.
During the Senate Budget Committee mark-up session, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley offered a Sense of the Senate amendment calling for stricter payment limits. The amendment passed the committee with only four dissenting votes.
Chambliss told reporters he remains “very opposed” to reducing payment limits and would have had no qualms about voting against the president's budget proposals which called for lowering the payment limits for individuals from $360,000 to $250,000 and eliminating the three-entity rule. He said he wasn't sure who in the Bush administration was responsible for the proposals, but added the author “didn't know much about production agriculture.”
While he wouldn't predict the outcome of a fight with Grassley and other Midwest senators over payment limits, Chambliss said “We've got a lot of strong support, and we're going to do everything we can to defeat it.”
He also said he does not believe southern and western farmers should take the brunt of the cuts while Midwest corn and soybean farmers continue to receive their current level of payments.
To his credit, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he would work with committee members to make sure that the administration numbers did not become law.
Noting a Congressional Budget Office analysis put the impact of the president's ag proposals at $9.1 billion rather than the $5.7 billion 10-year estimate by the administration, Goodlatte said “This is unacceptable. The level of reduction, which is proportionately far higher than in any other budget area, would seriously impair the functionality of the committee's programs.”
We should note that 50 senators signed a letter to Gregg asking him not to include all of the president's reductions for agriculture in the Budget Committee plan. But Chambliss deserves credit for taking on the White House in this fight.