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Rural communities are struggling, and farmers and ranchers are enduring their fourth year of low prices. We need a budget that meets the challenges and builds on the opportunities before us.

The Bush Administration's first budget includes some proposals I've strongly supported for a long time, like creating a new tax tool called Farm and Ranch Risk Management Accounts. FARRM accounts would allow farmers to put money away in tax-deferred accounts in good years to use during times of low prices. This is a common-sense risk management tool and I will work with the Administration to make it law.

But I'm concerned the Administration's budget is so unrealistically constrained it won't allow us to address the continuing crisis in agriculture. In response, I voted for Senator Johnson's (D-SD) amendment to the Senate budget resolution. The Johnson amendment would have increased the budget baseline for agriculture by $88 billion over the next ten years, paving the way to write a new farm bill. In addition, the amendment would have set aside $9 billion in emergency relief for farmers and ranchers this year. Unfortunately, the Senate opted for a much more limited approach offered by Senator Grassley (R-IA).

The USDA budget for fiscal year 2002 raises other concerns. Rural development funds for business and housing development are reduced. Funding is cut for Farm Service Agency staff and direct loans. Foreign food aid programs are cut at a time when commodity surpluses are too high. And like the Clinton Administration budgets before it, the Bush budget zeroes out scores of research projects important to producers in Washington state and around the country. Outside of USDA, important rural health investments are reduced and transportation dollars are cut.

Congress and the Bush Administration shouldn't leave rural communities behind in the race to enact a tax cut the country can't afford. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will work to restore funding for the USDA initiatives that have served producers in Washington state well, and to lay the foundation for the next farm bill.

There is much at stake as Congress considers budget, tax, appropriations and farm bill issues this year. If we do it right, we can create some tremendous opportunities for rural communities and producers.