Talent criticizes Bush ag policies
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Republican Sen. Jim Talent on Friday criticized President Bush's administration as indifferent -- even unfriendly -- to agriculture.
Talent, facing a tough re-election challenge from Democrat Claire McCaskill, rattled off one complaint after another with the Republican president's agricultural policies as he spoke to members of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation's political action committee.
He criticized the president's threatened veto of $4 billion in emergency aid to farmers and ranchers for drought, flooding, disease and other disasters.
The Senate-passed bill -- now stalled in the House -- also would increase many farmers' federal subsidy checks because of higher energy expenses.
Talent also criticized a Bush administration proposal made last year to close 713 of the nation's 2,351 Farm Service Agency offices. The offices have served for decades as a connection for farmers to secure loans and payments from various agricultural programs.
Talent last year sponsored a measure to block the closings. The administration scrapped the original plan, but still is pursuing consolidation -- this time with public hearings and congressional and local involvement.
Additionally, Talent criticized the administration's proposals to reduce farm subsidies as part of a prospective world trade agreement, which ended up collapsing. And he criticized the management of the Missouri River, which is the subject of a long battle between upstream and downstream states over the water levels set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"They've had a series of actions that, in my judgment, have shown an indifference to agricultural issues," Talent said in an interview after his remarks to the group. "When you see one thing after another after another, you're entitled to conclude that they're just not very friendly towards agriculture."
Talent, who benefited from his connection to Bush in the 2002 Senate election, has held fundraisers for this campaign with Bush but also has been pointing out differences between himself and the president.
He rejected any suggestion, however, that he was trying to distance himself from Bush.
The Farm Bureau political action committee overwhelmingly endorsed Talent on Friday. McCaskill turned down an invitation to appear before the group, noting its history of endorsing Republicans in statewide races.
"Attending this event would be like Claire meeting with the Missouri Republican Party for their endorsement," said McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh.
McCaskill did attend the Farm Bureau's endorsement session when she was running for governor two years ago. But the group instead endorsed Republican Matt Blunt.