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Bush Proposes Farm Bill With Safety Net but Little Intervention - 2002-02-08

President Bush wants Congress to pass legislation giving American farmers a "safety net" while expanding opportunities to sell U.S. agricultural products abroad. The president spoke to a cattle industry trade show in Colorado Friday on his way to the start of the Winter Olympics in Utah.

President Bush said he wants to spend more than $73 billion on American farmers over the next 10 years to help them weather economic downturns without unduly interfering in the free market. Mr. Bush said he wants to avoid past government intervention that he says distorted agricultural markets by creating overproduction.

"A good farm bill must provide a safety net for farmers without encouraging overproduction and thereby depressing prices. By setting loan rates too high, we could easily worsen a problem that loan rates were supposed to correct. I favor farm policy that strengthens the farm economy over the long run," he said.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress generally agree on the funding level for the farm bill but are split over how much of that money should be spent when. Democrats want to spend about $44 billion of the farm bill by 2007, leaving about $30 billion for the second five years.

President Bush warned against that strategy Friday, saying the money should be spent evenly so as not to leave programs without sufficient funding later on.

Mr. Bush repeated his call for Congress to grant him Trade Promotion Authority which would allow him to negotiate overseas business deals that would be put to Congress for a simple yes or no vote without amendment. He said American farmers and ranchers are the best in the world at what they do and should have greater access to overseas markets.

"It seems logical to me that we want more opportunity to sell that which we are best at all around the world. We want people in China eating U.S. beef," the president said.

President Bush said he will continue to be aggressive in protecting U.S. agricultural interests on the international stage while opening-up more countries for U.S. goods.

"The United States stood strong when it came to protecting the agricultural interests. We want to open up markets, and at the same time we want to make sure others open up their markets for us, and to make sure that we open up markets in places like Europe for America's healthy beef," he said.

The president's farm bill reduces subsidy payments by about $5 billion on the hopes that crop prices will rise next year. Mr. Bush also proposed creating farm savings accounts where the government would match farmers dollar-for-dollar for money they set aside for tough times.

Farmers are among the most heavily subsidized sectors of the U.S. economy. The democratically controlled Senate has voted to limit a farmer's annual subsidy to $275,000. Legislators from southern states oppose the move as there are bigger farms there that they say require larger subsidies.