Sen. Conrad: Deficit-cutting talks would "cripple agriculture"

By Stewart Doan

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 WASHINGTON, June 23 - Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says White House and congressional budget negotiators should take agriculture's existing contributions to deficit reduction into account when deciding how many more federal dollars should be cut from farm and conservation programs over the next decade.

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 Speaking at a Senate Ag Committee hearing Thursday on accountability in USDA program delivery, Conrad accused some participants in the high-level budget talks led by Vice President Biden of “pursuing an agenda that would absolutely cripple production agriculture.”

 According to Conrad, USDA stakeholders are prepared to accept “billions of dollars” worth of additional spending cuts, but he reminded that farmers and ranchers already have made a “significant” contribution to reining in the deficit.

 “USDA has gotten the message,” he said, citing efforts by the Department to reduce travel, cancel bad loans and bring down the administrative costs of crop insurance.

 “That message needs to go to the people who are negotiating with the Vice President,” said Conrad. His comments came amid reports that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had pulled out of the White House budget talks.

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