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Voice: Special interest groups, GOP contributors doing well under Bush USDA

September 17, 2001

Since I was once roamed the halls of the USDA, I decided to take a close look at how they're doing lately under our Republican president.

When President Bush released the details of his budget for fiscal 2002, farmers were surprised to discover that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was on the chopping block.

Currently struggling with Depression-era prices for their commodities, farmers have received nearly $70 billion in government aid since 1998, and they expected the subsidies to continue until the market improved.

But farm aid was missing from Bush's budget. The White House said farm conditions are improving and the subsidies are no longer needed. Instead, the president said farmers could apply for aid from a national emergency fund that would serve not just farmers but the whole country, including those areas hit by natural disasters.

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Bush's budget proposal contained other cuts in agricultural spending. Bush proposed to reduce the USDA's overall funding by about 7 percent next year and he provided for zero growth in per capita agricultural spending over the next 10 years.

Other areas where cuts were proposed include conservation programs and rural development programs.

Bush's budget did increase agricultural spending in a few key areas. The Foreign Agricultural Service, which helps facilitate international trade, would receive a 6 percent increase under Bush's plan. That provision could prove beneficial to Cargill, the country's No. 1 grain exporter, which made more than $28,000 in individual contributions to the Bush campaign in 1999-2000.

Another potential beneficiary is Kraft Foods, which sells products in 140 countries. Kraft is a subsidiary of Philip Morris, which contributed $35,000 to Bush and more than $2 million in soft money to the GOP in the recent election cycle.

Bush also proposed to increase funding for the Risk Management Agency by 12 percent. The Risk Management Agency reinsures crop-protection policies issued by private insurance companies, a program the insurance industry wants to see continued. The insurance industry gave Bush more than $1.6 million in 1999-2000.

It seems President Bush's special interests groups have fared well.

FRANK SALAZAR

Holtville

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