- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Democrats and Republicans are already shooting down President Obama’s plan to cut farm subsidies, dealing a blow to one of the cost-savings promises he laid out in his congressional address Tuesday night.

“We’ll have to see what specifically the president is talking about, but we just finished the farm bill last year, and I don’t think we’ll open it up,” said Rep. Collin C. Peterson, Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Likewise, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said the farm bill, which lasts for five years, “should not be changed midstream.”

“I believe it is premature to make any sweeping changes to the makeup of the farm safety net before we have even had the chance to implement the current farm bill,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

The pushback came a day after Mr. Obama called for cutting subsidies to farm businesses in his address to Congress, one of a few examples of how he can save $2 trillion from the federal budget over 10 years, and as other Democratic leaders took issue with what they see as White House moves into their domain.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in no uncertain terms defended the right of lawmakers to direct federal dollars, or earmarks, to their districts despite the efforts by Mr. Obama to curb the time-honored practice as he puts the finishing touches on his first fiscal budget to be released Thursday.

“We are a separate branch of government,” Mr. Reid said.

“Since we’ve been a country, we have had the obligation, as a Congress, to help direct spending. We cannot let spending be done by a bunch of nameless, faceless bureaucrats buried in this town someplace, to take care the needs of the state of Nevada, Washington and New York.”

Mr. Reid acknowledged that the earmark process had been “abused” in recent years. House and Senate Democrats say that the number of such special requests will be lower in the new budget and that the projects and the members requesting the earmark will be fully disclosed.

Also Wednesday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, president pro tem of the Senate, blasted Mr. Obama for stepping beyond his constitutional boundaries in naming so many “czars” to oversee policy. The senator said czars circumvent the usual Cabinet officials who have to go through Senate confirmation and answer to Congress as well as the president.

“Too often, I have seen these lines of authority and responsibility become tangled and blurred, sometimes purposely, to shield information and to obscure the decision-making process,” Mr. Byrd said in a letter written to Mr. Obama Monday and released two days later.

An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, defended the arrangement as the best way to get things done in Washington.

“The czars were put in place to help coordinate the policy process. For issues like climate change and health care the input of multiple agencies is essential to the decision-making process and our goal is to move forward with our policy agenda as efficiently as possible,” the official said.

As for the spending on pet projects, the White House said Mr. Obama remains determined to fight the problem but shied from saying he would use the threat of veto to limit their use.

“Without having looked specifically at a piece of legislation, I’m hesitant to throw out the word - that four- letter word ‘veto’,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

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