The USDA game plan for spending includes opening offices in Brazil, India, and West Africa to deal with farm export issues ... and proceeding with plans for a national livestock identification system. On the flip side, the administration wants changes in the food stamp and nutrition programs that would save $170 million over two years. Both farm and anti-hunger advocates say they'll fight the proposal.
Farm state interests also are keeping a close eye on another contentious piece of legislation in Congress -- the energy bill. Lawmakers have been wrangling over the issue since 2001. A frustrated President Bush this week said it's time to "get off the dime" and pass an energy bill. But for a sharply divided Congress, that's easier said than done.
Lawmakers this week discussed an $8 billion energy bill. The proposal would provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to the energy industry, open an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling, and aid farmers by expanding the use of ethanol in gasoline. The massive legislation is similar to the one the House approved two years ago, only to see it die in the Senate.
That bill died because of a dispute over the gasoline additive MTBE. MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, is an oxygenate widely used in gasoline to reduce air pollution. It also has been found to contaminate drinking water supplies, sometimes leaving communities with hefty cleanup bills. The dispute stemmed from a proposal to provide makers of MTBE protection against product liability lawsuits. The current GOP energy bill still would protect MTBE-makers, including several major oil and refinery companies in Texas.
Democrats complain that the bill provides little to promote renewable energy sources and reduce energy use. And, they say the tax benefits go to companies already making huge profits from high energy prices. Of the $8 billion in tax incentive over 10 years, Democrats claim less than $500 million would go to promote renewable energy sources.
The proposal does call for increased use of ethanol as a gasoline additive, a major boost for farmers. It would require at least 5 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol to be used annually, about a third more than current production.
The full House is expected to take up the energy bill as early as next week. Meanwhile, the Senate likely will begin consideration of an energy package later this year.