Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The new Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, delivered his first report to Congress this week and declared the U.S. economy has rebounded from a fourth quarter slump. After slowing to an annualized rate of growth of just over one percent in the final quarter of last year, **the Fed expects the U.S. economy to grow at a healthy pace of around 3-and-a-half percent in 2006. *The Commerce Department said retail sales, excluding cars, were up 2.2 percent in January – their best showing since late 1999. *And new housing starts, defied forecasts of a slowdown, rising 14.5 percent last month -- their fastest rate of growth in nearly thirty years. While there is optimism in the statistics showing an improving economy, its hard to put a positive spin on a the more than 420 billion dollar federal deficit ... Particularly when it means cuts in everyone's "favorite" government-financed programs. This week, USDA secretary Mike Johanns went to Capitol Hill, where he testified to a congressional subcommittee on the impact of proposed cuts in government farm programs.
Mike Johanns, USDA Secretary: The President's 07 budget, which was released on February 6th indicates USDA expenditures are estimated to decrease from 96 billion in 06 to 93 billion in 07."
Much of what USDA secretary Mike Johanns told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee about his 2007 budget has been released over the last couple of weeks. But his appearance at the table afforded committee members the opportunity to question the secretary on a number of budget proposals.
Rep. Tom Latham, R-IA: "Your proposals, if enacted, would reopen the 2002 Farm Bill by changing the payment limitations and reducing overall payments. How do you expect the American farmers to be assured that they will have a stable farm income safety net and the tools to do long range planning o if the rules are gonna change in the middle of the game?"
Johanns: When you have a deficit that you have to deal with somehow you've gotta figure out how the whole federal goverment deals with that whole deficit. And the USDA is not off limits in that initiative
Rep. Virgil Goode, R-VA: Let's say we needed to get real serious about it. If you could cut out 15 more billion where would you cut, mandatory or discretionary?
Johanns:That's about the total of our discretionary budget as you know, it would pretty well shut the lights out.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro D-CT Quite frankly, Mr. Secretary, there was not even a mention or a reference in the testimony about animal identification. Animal identification system: mandatory or volutnary?
Johanns: "Currently voluntary but may become mandatory.
Rep. DeLauro: "So we don't know what direction we're going in?"
"Direction" of discussion changed a number of times, including to the 2007 farm bill. One member remarked she favored extending the 2002 farm bill until trade negotiations are settled with the World Trade Organization. But Secretary Johanns thinks that would be a mistake.
Mike Johanns, USDA Secretary: "I believe we can develop and draft a good farm policy. One thing I hear – and you do too – is this notion of we write good farm policy and we probably even verbalize it - that the WTO won't be writing our farm bill."