An inventive House Agriculture Committee voted yesterday to cut more than $1.3 billion from fiscal 1988 farm-program spending by requiring, among other things, the clear labeling of imitation cheese on frozen meat pizzas.
The labeling stipulation, sought by a dairy lobby trying to sell more real mozzarella and supported by members of Congress who expect that the government will have to buy less surplus, was but one of a number of ingenious gyrations the committee underwent as it sought to meet a $1.2 billion agricultural budget-reduction requirement set by Congress.
The committee is expected to give final approval today to the package of proposed cuts that were crafted to help meet an overall federal budget reduction goal of $23 billion and to avoid across-the-board cuts that would ensue if the goal is not met.
Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) warned that unless the committee met the goal and approved cuts recommended by a budget reconciliation task force, federal program payment reductions would be "murder" to farmers.
The bulk of the savings envisioned in the package -- $1.2 billion -- would result from a Glickman amendment that would cut the amount of income subsidy payments that would be made in advance to farmers this year. For example, wheat farmers who now can receive 40 percent of their subsidy in advance would get 30 percent.
Although committee members did not challenge the math or the method, other anticipated savings seemed less concrete. They included:A $13 million reduction in spending through clearer pizza labeling. Requiring that imitation cheese be plainly marked on freezer packages, the logic went, would make consumers seek out real cheese. Demand would increase and federal purchases of surpluses would be reduced. A $117 million saving by selling 1 billion bushels of surplus corn from government warehouses for "nontraditional uses," meaning principally as fuel for electrical generation plants. The savings would come from income to the government and lower storage costs. A $44 million saving in farm program costs by requiring that all motor fuel sold in the United States by 1992 contain at least 5 percent ethanol -- alcohol distilled from agricultural products.
Rep. Edward R. Madigan (R-Ill.) and other champions of the idea argued that it would lower oil imports and dramatically raise farmers' prices. No member mentioned that current policy, approved by the committee in its 1985 farm bill, is aimed at lowering prices to make U.S. farmers more competitive.