DEP. SEC. CHUCK CONNER: Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to the Department of Agriculture. Today as you may know the President vetoed a piece of legislation that failed to implement meaningful reform to our farm programs, while increasing taxpayer spending by over $20 billion. This massive spending package that comes at a time of escalating food prices and gas closing in on nearly $4 a gallon, in our opinion, is simply unacceptable.
The President has stated time and time again that he would not accept a Farm Bill that fails to reform our farm programs at a time when farm income and crop prices are setting records, and he has remained true to his word. It is irresponsible to ask the American taxpayer who is struggling to make ends meet to subsidize farm couples and those who make more than $1 million a year. Simply put, this is bad policy, it is unfair policy.
The U.S. farm economy has never been stronger. The administration supports our farmers and ranchers and has sought good policies that will move agriculture forward and rural America forward. Unfortunately, this bill continues to support programs that benefit those who do not need it. And because of this, our nonfarmers in America today are justifiably questioning the rationale and the fairness behind farm bills in general.
As more of this 1,700 page spending bill becomes unveiled, we learn more about the taxpayer abuses and the unsound policies that are in this bill. Just recently it was brought to light that a $170 million earmark for the salmon industry was slipped into this bill in the dead of night. It joins other egregious earmarks such as millions for a ski resort in Vermont and $250 million for a federal land grab in Montana. And Congress has included last minute changes to the so-called "ACRE" farm subsidy program that likely will result in tens of billions of dollars of new government outlays in the future.
We're going to show a chart here just for one crop that we subsidize, and you can see that under our cost analysis if we returned under this bill to $3 a bushel corn – and again that's much higher than our five-year average market price on corn – but $3 a bushel on corn, this bill would have an additional $10 billion of outlays just for one crop.
And we would have similar numbers, similar proportions for corn, as well as for wheat, soybeans and rice as well -- tens of billions of dollars of additional cost, even if prices moderate to levels, that would still be far above our 5 to 10 year average market price in this country.
To pay for this farm bill, ladies and gentlemen, Congress relies on budget gimmicks such as timing shifts of payments and forcing some businesses to pay their taxes early in order to help cover the $20 billion in extra spending in this bill. For more than a year, the administration worked with Congress in an effort to develop a good farm bill that the President could sign and sign enthusiastically. We worked to craft a measure that brought real reform to our farm program while working to protect the safety net for rural America. We based our own proposal on comments from all across America and concentrated on policies that targeted farmers who really needed the help. This of course included ending subsidies to the wealthiest of Americans, those with an adjusted gross income of over $200,000 a year.
Yet Congress decided to go in another direction, an opposite direction, and sent the President a bill that grossly overspends in typical Washington, D.C. fashion.
This veto is the right thing to do, and Congress should support the President's decision. The Congress should extend the current farm bill rather than jeopardize America's support for the farm bill in general with wasteful spending that fails to target payments in even the most rudimentary way to farmers who really do need the help.
At this point I would be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.
REPORTER: Perhaps you have an estimate on the number of landowners, large operators, farmers, whatever the title is, of people who would be affected by a $500,000 AGI limit on off-farm income and $750,000 AGI limit on on-farm income for access to crop programs?
DEP. SEC. CONNER: We don't have a precise number, Chuck. But I will tell you, by the time you add in $500,000 for off-farm income, $750,000 for all farm income, and the fact that there are so many exemptions, and then you double that of course if you are a husband and wife filing separately, these are levels that really impact a fraction of 1 percent of American tax filers in this country, perhaps even as little as 2/10ths of 1 percent. The number of people that would be caught by these provisions, we've said in the past and continue to believe that virtually no one in America will be impacted by these limits.
REPORTER: Do you have a number for how many would be impacted if you got the $200,000 that you've mentioned?
DEP. SEC. CONNER: I think the figures we used at $200,000, there was about 38,000 tax filers in America that were over that amount who claimed a farm income, farm support payments within that category. So we estimated that number to be roughly in the 38,000 range, not a massive number of people. And even under our proposal it was the top 2 percent of tax filers in America today. So this was a pretty elite group. And of course, again under the proposal that has been passed by the Congress this is really sort of the Fortune 500 list if you will of people out there who perhaps might be caught.
But our analysis again is with the exemptions and the doubling and everything else that is going on here virtually no one in America is going to be impacted, and that is really just a missed opportunity and is a discredit to this farm bill.
REPORTER: Have you been calling or will you call perhaps Republicans who voted yes who you think might vote no? In other words, are you lobbying to change the votes?
DEP. SEC. CONNER: Bill, we know the vote is an uphill climb, and we've been saying that. Certainly nothing in the last few days has made us think differently that we know the difficulty of getting Congress to not override at this point. We've been making our case; we've been making it to individual members of Congress. Certainly we've been making it in a very public way just simply trying to make sure before going and casting this vote to override that Members of Congress understand the details of this bill.
And I think we've managed to do that. They understand a lot more of the details than they did when they first voted the initial passage of this bill. I might add, that initial passage was voted on in less than 24 hours after the bill language itself became available. And of course since then we've discovered provisions like this in the bill like the ACRE provision.
And you know, one of the troubling parts about this provision is, the budget exposure is just off the charts. But guess what? In their bill that they passed, their ACRE provisions saved money. And they turn around and spend that money, that they supposedly saved, on other programs.
Just to show you the folly that has gone into the preparation of this bill: $10 billion for one crop even at a very high price, and yet they are claiming budget savings as a result of this provision.
Other questions? All right. Thank you all very much.