U.S. Reps. Charlie Stenholm D-17th Texas District, and Randy Neugebauer R-19th District, paid homage to the economic contributions peanuts make to West Texas and then offered sometimes contrasting views on how the budget battle should play out in the coming days during a recent meeting of peanut producers and industry representatives in Lubbock.
The congressmen, who are currently battling each other for the District 19th seat, a result of last year's gerrymandering by the Texas Legislature, offered a legislative update to participants in Peanuts: A National Perspective seminar, sponsored by the Texas Peanut Producers Board and the Texas Cooperative Extension Service.
“Ten years ago, how many peanut farmers would have attended a meeting in Lubbock?” Neugebauer asked. “Now, the area has benefited from the infrastructure built to support 160,000 acres of peanuts.”
“Increased peanut acreage in West Texas has resulted in a multi-million-dollar economic boom for the area,” Stenholm said.
The two also agree that hanging on to farm bill appropriations constitutes a big challenge for agricultural advocates in the U.S. Congress.
Will cost less
“This is budget week in Washington,” Stenholm said. “And the budget is always a challenge. But we should not receive cuts in agriculture because the farm bill is doing what it was supposed to do.”
He said the farm bill will cost about $5 billion less this year than anticipated. The peanut cost will be $26 million below cost estimates this year.
“We need to make the American public aware that the farm program is costing less than projected,” Neugebauer said. “Trade initiatives have helped. For instance, demand for peanuts has increased.”
Stenholm said the Blue Dogs (a group of fiscally conservative Democrats) have proposed a budget that would freeze agricultural spending at current levels but would not cut funding further.
“The opposition party would include a $215 billion discretionary spending cut over the next five years,” he said. Stenholm indicated that those cuts could be used to trim funding for conservation and other titles.
Neugebauer said he does not support any tax increase. Stenholm indicated that some of the tax cuts initiated last year should not be permanent.
“We don't have an income problem in Congress,” Neugebauer countered. “We have a spending problem.”
Stenholm said a significant budget cut is unlikely in an election year. He also said if farmers are to compete successfully in international markets “the government must stand shoulder to shoulder with growers. We can't compete with other governments.”
Neugebauer said the country has come through “the longest taxation period in U.S. history. Now, we must make tough decisions in Congress. We need to look first at loss, fraud and waste in government entitlement programs. That's an alternative to cuts. But we also must make each program stand on its own feet and we have to ask: Can we afford it?”
Stenholm said Congress would be remiss if it does not address the mounting deficit and the tenuous state of Social Security. “The Baby Boom generation is just a few years away from retirement,” he said. “We must keep our eyes on the future. We have two options: pass a budget that perpetuates the deficit or pass one that will eliminate it.”
He said trade deficits also threaten the country's economy.
Neugebauer said a priority will be to bring members of Congress to West Texas to give them a perspective on the unique nature of Southwest agriculture. Defining a family farm in the Midwest or in East Coast terms results in a different model than he finds in West Texas.
He also pledged to work on a better risk management program.
“Ad hoc disaster programs will become much harder to obtain in the future,” he said. “We need a risk management policy that includes adequate insurance coverage.”
Segregation 3 prices
He said other agricultural issues under study include improved prices for segregation 3 peanuts and government loan maturity deadlines.
Stenholm said even with all the problems facing agriculture he considers that “we are blessed to live in a country with the most abundant, most safe and most affordable food supply in the world. We've done a pretty darn good job. The agricultural committee is still doing its work and we're doing it mostly in a bi-partisan manner. That's the only way we're going to solve the problems facing this country.”