Top Dem appropriator joins Obama's call for food aid reform

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Obama's budget blueprint proposes transferring the program from the Department of Agriculture to the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), setting up a bruising battle on Capitol Hill that cuts across party lines.

In one corner are farm state lawmakers who want the government to continue buying U.S.-grown food and ship it abroad; in the other: reform proponents who agree with Obama that the current system wastes taxpayer money and harms poor countries' ability to grow their own food.

The Republican chairwoman of the House panel that oversees the program is taking a wait-and-see approach to Obama's proposal.

“The President’s budget is a blueprint for what the administration wants out of the Congress and not something that will be enacted into law,” Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said in an emailed statement.

“I look forward to reviewing the budget over the coming weeks as we question the administration on new proposals and areas for reform through hearings and briefings. We will take the same approach we have taken in previous years and prioritize our spending based on our own national security interests and what we can afford,” Granger wrote.

Obama's proposal has already been endorsed by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“After nearly 60 years of experience, we are encouraged by the president’s proposal to fundamentally alter our food aid program to reach more people, more quickly, at less cost,” Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement.

“We look forward to working with the Administration and our colleagues in Congress to modernize U.S. food aid programs while ensuring maximum impact and efficiency.”

Lawmakers on the Senate agriculture and agricultural appropriations panels, however, oppose the plan.

“American agriculture is one of the few U.S. business sectors to produce a trade surplus, exporting $108 billion in farm goods in 2010,” 21 of them wrote in a letter to Obama. “During this time of economic distress, we should maintain support for the areas of our economy that are growing.”