Senator pledges agriculture programs will continue
Head of Budget Committee says he expects agriculture programs to stay largely protected in the deficit reduction program he and the panel's ranking member have proposed.
PARK CITY, Utah - Despite the need to curb government spending, agriculture programs are not likely to be among those trimmed, one of the Senate's top Democratic budget hawks said Monday.
In a video-conference speech to the American Sugar Alliance, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he expects agriculture programs to stay largely protected in the deficit reduction program that he and Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg have proposed. Conrad added he is not taking anything off the table, but noted lawmakers completed a farm bill just last year. "I believe we would be in good shape in agriculture," he said.
In a speech focused on defending the Obama administration's stimulus plan, Conrad also called for serious consideration of his deficit-reduction proposal. Noting that the difference between inter-bank-lending rates and Treasury bills are almost back to normal, Conrad said the economy is "pulling out of free fall."
But given the prospect of long-term deficits, Conrad said he was "delighted" that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said this weekend the government must address the issue of debt. Under the proposal he and Gregg have offered, he said, the deficit would be cut in a package that also addresses Social Security, healthcare costs and taxes.
Healthcare reform could "bend the cost curve in the right way," said Conrad, but only if lawmakers proceed with "thorough-going tax reform." He added, "We are only collecting 76 percent of what is owed and due. We are going to have to junk much of the present system."
Conrad cited as examples tax shelters and laws that allow companies to protect offshore income from taxation. He said the government misses out on $50 billion a year due to tax shelters, and another $100 billion could come from tightening offshore-revenue collection.
One area Conrad did not think would be taxed for healthcare reform was sugary drinks. Some lawmakers have floated the idea, but Conrad told the sugar group such a tax will not be included.