- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

DENVER President Bush yesterday promised a gathering of fellow cattlemen he will work to reduce government bureaucracy by taking power out of the hands of federal officials.

Making a pitch for his farm bill before 2,000 ranchers at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the president said legislation nearing completion on Capitol Hill can be both generous and affordable without binding the hands of ranchers.

"We think that the collective wisdom of those who own their land is a benefit to the nation; that when individuals make proper choices because they own their own property, that all those decisions in a collective way makes better environmental policy, better land-use policy than if it was dictated from a central source of people, many of whom have probably never been on the land," Mr. Bush said.

The line drew thunderous applause that turned into a standing ovation from those in the audience, many of whom were clad in cowboy hats and boots.

Waving a cowboy hat as he took the stage at the largest beef cattle industry trade show in the country, the former Texas governor, who owns a 1,600-acre ranch in Crawford, yesterday revived an early theme of his presidency the Washington outsider.

"Laura and I love what we do. We love our new address," he said to laughter. "But I can assure you, when it's all over, we're going back to the ranch."

"I don't get to spend enough time there but, when I do, I really enjoy being around the cows," he said, referring to himself as a "windshield rancher."

The president used the occasion to spell out his differences with Congress over federal farm policy.

The Republican-controlled House passed a 10-year, $73.5 billion bill in October that gives farmers larger annual subsidies while holding the line on crop supports. The Democrat-controlled Senate favors a similiar bill with one key difference: Its proposal is more front-loaded, exceeding the spending level preferred by the White House.

The Senate version would use an estimated $44 billion by 2007, leaving about $30 billion for the remaining five years. Congress would either have to slash farm programs then or approve another spending increase. The House-passed farm bill would cost $34.6 billion in the first five years.

Mr. Bush does not want the legislation to be front-loaded which he called "political gimmickry" but instead calls for the money to be spent more or less evenly over the 10-year span.

"To put it bluntly, what we don't want to do is overpromise to farmers and underperform. What we don't want to do is use the taxpayers' money to try to cobble together a loose coalition to get votes early on, which will ultimately hurt the agricultural sector of the United States of America," he said.

Mr. Bush also took the opportunity to push another favorite issue permanent repeal of the estate tax.

"I appreciate so very much the fact that the cattleman usually doesn't spend a lot of time asking something from the federal government, except for perhaps lower taxes," he said to laughter.

"But one message that all of us on this stage heard loud and clear was this: Let us pass our assets on from one generation to the next. Let us make sure my son and daughter is able to ranch the land that has been in my family for a long time."

The White House said the death tax "has already broken up enough ranches and farms, and [Mr. Bushs] budget supports making this repeal permanent." The estate tax is to be phased out until 2010, when it again would take effect.

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