COTTON SUBSIDIES HIT IN NEW REPORT

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--The fight to save cotton subsidies ran into more criticism last week from a report showing that just a small percentage of cotton farmers receive the bulk of the federal assistance.
The report, released by the consumer advocacy group Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, showed that the top 7 percent of cotton program recipients received half of all subsidies. These farmers received an average of $360,280 from 1985 to 1994--far more than the average $194,630 received by the top 7 percent of corn growers, the report said.
Rep. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), speaking at the Capitol Hill press conference held for the report's release, called the subsidy programs "big money giveaways."
Urging they be terminated, as proposed in a plan by House Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), Schumer said, "Let's return to the free market system for the farm."
Contacted for reaction, National Cotton Council director of economic services Mark Lange justified the price supports on the grounds they were tied to production.
"Many commercial operations are large enterprises that allow them to take advantage of different economies of scale and diversification issues," he said. "For this reason, we've always said that payment limits punish those who attempt to take advantage of technology and efficient means of production."
The textile industry has been waging a battle for a few weeks against Roberts' bill, which was defeated by the House Agriculture Committee. The industry instead favors a Senate plan that would preserve the subsidy programs, which industry executives say helps preserve a stable supply of domestic cotton.
Roberts's measure could yet be included in the massive budget reconciliation bill expected to be completed this week because its fate now rests with the House Budget and the Rules committees.
Rep. John Kasich (R., Ohio), chairman of the Budget Committee, told reporters last week there is a "99.9 percent likelihood" the Roberts bill would be included in reconciliation.
Roberts said he was insisting his version of subsidy reform be included in the package. His bill would cut $13.6 billion in agriculture spending by eliminating farm subsidies for cotton and all other commodities in the next seven years.
It was defeated in his committee because four Republicans voted against it, in defense of their local cotton growers. The four--Larry Combest of Texas, Bill Emerson of Missouri, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Richard Baker of Louisiana--have subsequently drafted a letter to their House colleagues explaining their opposition to Roberts's bill and advocating their rival plan that would retain the basic structure of the farm programs while meeting the budget-reconciliation targets.
While the industry-preferred subsidy package would be in the Senate reconciliation bill, which must be reconciled with the House plan, textile interests still are attempting to keep Roberts's plan out of the House bill.

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