USDA Increase Not in Cards

Both Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Joe Skeen, R-N.M., warned Agriculture Secretary Glickman in hearings held today and Wednesday that he will not get the full $13.2 billion he has requested for discretionary spending in FY98.

Cochran told Glickman today the best he could expect is the same funding level as FY97. Skeen told Glickman Wednesday his request is "not in the cards" since the committee must start off by absorbing $900 million in costs for women's infants' and children's program, as well as crop insurance subsidies that had previously been part of the mandatory account and food stamps savings now claimed by other committees.

After the hearing, Skeen told reporters the appropriators might agree with the Agriculture Department request for increasing user fees for food inspection, but that the proposal would probably have a tough time going through authorizing committees. While the committee atmosphere was friendly, Skeen called the Clinton budget "a shell game."

Glickman was also questioned at both hearings about reports that he has revised plans to reduce the number of Agriculture Department field offices from 3,500 to 2,000, and later down to 1,500.

Glickman replied that he has no plan to cut the number to 1,500, but some state office directors have said some offices are so small it may make sense to merge them.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained bitterly that a USDA official in Kentucky had traveled around the state saying that 50 offices would be closed.

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