April 17, 2014

Obama budget DOA says Johanns, Fortenberry (AUDIO)

Two members of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation pan the budget proposed by President Barack Obama.

Sen. Mike Johanns says the president’s proposed budget was dead on arrival.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of a proposal by the president that isn’t even given five minutes of serious discussion,” Johanns says. “This budget is going nowhere.”

The president’s budget totals $3.9 trillion. It includes $55 billion in new spending on defense, highway infrastructure, preschool education, even an increase in tax credits for the poor. It would raise taxes by $1 trillion through increased taxes on businesses and America’s wealthy.

The White House estimates that the debt would shrink under the president’s budget plan to around 69% of the Gross Domestic Product. That, though, is a far rosier take than that projected by the Congressional Budget Office, which forecasts the debt to rise to 74% of the GDP in 2024.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a member of the House Budget Committee, says the proposal lacks courage and vision.

“This budget significantly increases taxes and spending and has a whole laundry list of ideas that are going nowhere in the House,” according to Fortenberry.

The House is controlled by Republicans. Democrats control the Senate.

Both Fortenberry and Johanns are Republicans. Obama is a Democrat.

Fortenberry and Johanns expect Congress to follow the spending caps approved late last year after House Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) reached agreement.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

OSHA backs off, won’t try to collect $132,000 fine against Nebraska farm

OSHA has back-tracked and decided not to pursue enforcing a $132,000 fine against a Nebraska farm.

Sen. Mike Johanns reacts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s decision to not pursue big fines against the small farm in Holt County.

“About time,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “This is a case that never should have been brought in the first place.”

Johanns says he became aware of the situation when the lawyer for the farm reached out to his office.

OSHA moved against the farm in Holt County, claiming it had violated federal grain bin regulations.

Johanns claims the federal agency exceeded its authority. He points out Congress prohibits the enforcement of federal regulations on family farms, specifically enforcement on farms with fewer than 10 employees who are not members of the family.

“But it’s terribly unfortunate that OSHA decided to ignore what Congress was saying and tried to regulate this farm,” Johanns says. “It never made any sense.”

Johanns says he will be watching to see if this indeed signals a change in how OSHA handles family farms.

OSHA has stated it will work with the United States Department of Agriculture to refine its farm regulations. Johanns says he would welcome efforts by OSHA and the USDA to work with youth groups, such as the FFA and 4-H, on educational programs to raise awareness about grain bin safety.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Sen. Johanns says budget deal fails to face federal fiscal crisis

Sen. Mike Johanns says he voted against the trillion dollar federal budget deal, because it failed to face the nation’s fiscal crisis.

Johanns says he understands the frustration with sequestration, but says the deal reached to fund the federal government through September isn’t the answer.

“The Budget Control Act was not a perfect piece of legislation and I fully appreciate that,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “But having said that, for two straight years now we’ve brought down non-defense discretionary spending. That is unbelievable. That hadn’t happened since the Korean War.”

Negotiators for the House and Senate reached a $1.012 trillion deal to fund the federal government through September. It contains about $25 billion more in discretionary spending than last year and $45 billion more than the Budget Control Act, the so-called sequestration.

Johanns says he couldn’t vote for a compromise that will worsen the $17 trillion federal debt.

“We backed off on the budget caps and I just think that’s the wrong thing to do,” Johanns says.

Johanns says the $650 billion annual federal deficits will only get worse as Baby Boomers continue to retire and tap into more and more federal programs.

“I just think it really was the wrong direction.”

Johanns agrees with analyst who say the compromise reached between the House and the Senate seemed more like a truce than anything.

“I think it was, unfortunately,” Johanns responds. “This is an election year for all of the House and a third of the Senate. I think they just wanted to get it behind them. You know, there had been that government shutdown. It was a bad deal. Nothing came out of it.”

Sen. Johanns remains wary of OSHA (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns remains suspicious of OSHA, even though the agency has said it will address complaints that it is encroaching on small, family farms.

Johanns has been harshly critical of the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration, charging OSHA has violated federal law by attempting to regulate small farms.

Johanns remains wary, even after OSHA officials promised to consult with their colleagues at the United States Department of Agriculture on proper farm regulations.

“I hope that’s serious. I hope it’s not just a perfunctory meeting to check the box and say, well we consulted and now we’re still going to regulate small farms,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “So, we’ll see. I think the next couple of months will tell us what their intentions are.”

Federal law prohibits OSHA from regulating farms with fewer than 10 employees.

Johanns says there shouldn’t be any confusion about the intent of Congress. It passed the law 35 years ago.

The issue came to a head in Nebraska when OSHA fined a family farm with only one employee $132,000 for not having proper dust abatement policies.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Sen. Johanns expects farm bill to pass Congress

Sen. Mike Johanns expects Congress to vote soon on a new farm bill after negotiators from the Senate and House reached agreement on a compromise.

Johanns says it appears a two-year logjam might finally be broken.

“I think once it comes out, it will move quickly to see if it has the votes in the House and the Senate,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “I’m very confident it will pass in the Senate.”

Johanns points out the Senate has twice approved a new farm bill only to have the House reject the measures.

Negotiators went back to work, emerging with a compromise that will be sent first to the House and, if accepted, will move to the Senate for its consideration.

Though both conservatives and liberals grouse about different aspects of the bill, it has one thing going for it as it hits the floors of both chambers: it saves money.

Johanns expects the bill to save up to $25 billion over its five-year lifespan. Others place the savings at about $23 billion.

A change in philosophy should provide the savings.

“I would also say what I have been saying all over the state and that is that direct payments are going to go away. This philosophy of we’ll pay farmers and just give them a straight out payment, that’s ending under this farm bill and I think for the Midwest, places like Nebraska, we’re going to see a farm bill where it’s more based on crop insurance, risk management,” according to Johanns, a former Secretary of Agriculture.

Johanns says the shift from direct payments to risk management through crop insurance makes sense. Johanns says that under crop insurance, farmers will make premium payments under a federally subsidized program.

“A year ago, they would have collected, because we had a huge drought. This last year, they didn’t. They paid premiums. They probably didn’t get anything back from that. But, having said that, I think farmers understand that and they’re willing to manage their risks that way.” Johanns says. ” I think from our standpoint here in Nebraska this will be a farm bill that works well for Nebraskans.”

The bill cuts the federal food stamp program; deeper than the legislation approved by the Senate, but not as deep as the House had approved. Under the compromise, the food stamp program would be cut by $8 billion over the next ten years.