By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 – In what's likely to be the first of many “Dear Debbie” letters to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), former Sec of Agriculture and now Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) warns that current administration policies may be undermining “the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.”

In his letter addressed to both Stabenow and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Johanns first congratulates the two “on your anticipated selection as Chair and Ranking Member” of the committee. Then he notes that the committee's work is particularly important now since it is preparing to write the 2012 farm bill.

Johanns urges the committee to be “vigilant in its oversight responsibility over this Administration” to ensure that “government actions do not undercut the efforts of our farmers and ranchers.” To provide adequate oversight, he calls for holding committee hearings on at least six key issues which he lists as:

  • “The effects of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) [greenhouse gas] endangerment finding on the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture;

  • “The impact of EPA regulation on U.S. agriculture, including Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure regulations; air quality standards for dust; pesticide spray drift controls; and registration reviews for pesticides;

  • “An examination of the budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), including an assessment of the efficacy of earmarks and an accounting of resources that have been diverted from production agriculture priorities and instead devoted to Administration pet projects such as 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' and climate change initiatives;

  • “Oversight of the Administration's trade promotion efforts, including and analysis of the possible changes suggested by the Foreign Agricultural Service to the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program, as well as the adequacy of the Administration's actions to double exports and meet the objectives of their National Export Initiative;

  • “A review of activities of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), including GIPSA's proposed rule regarding livestock marketing competition and GIPSA programs involving payment protection for livestock, bonding, and surveillance of custodial accounts; and

  • “An evaluation of the Administration's ad hoc disaster assistance program announced on September 15, 2010, its effect on the debt and on Section 32 purchases of fruits and vegetables and other agricultural commodities, why our corn farmers are not eligible, and whether these assistance efforts circumvent Congress' disaster aid intentions as established by the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program.

Johanns' suggestions cover some areas which could contribute to Republican legislators' goal of reducing federal spending by $100 billion this year – as in the case of either scaling back or eliminating the administration's “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and climate change initiatives. In other areas – such as Johanns' indication he'd like USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service to spend more money on promoting agricultural exports – Johanns' views may clash with those of other Republicans.

For instance, Kevin Hassett, the economic-policy studies director at the American Enterprise Institute who advised GOP Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign, says that “cutting $100 billion is a piece of cake” – and that the $100 billion cut should start with cutting “farm subsidies, which topped $15.4 billion in 2009.” As part of cutting farm subsidies, Hasset calls for “closing the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service.”

To read Sen. Johanns' Jan. 12 letter to Sens. Stabenow and Roberts, click HERE.

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