The new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee today opened his committee's three-day tour of the nation's heartland with a sharp attack on Reagan Administration farm policy.
"I want to get the committee out of Washington, and into the country," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a breakfast speech to the City Club of Chicago. "Each senator will spend nights on farms, see small towns by day and listen closely to what we hear. We will bring our committee to the people."
The committee plans to visit Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska before heading back to Washington on Wednesday.
"Nobody can call it a junket. We'll be visiting such places as North Dakota and South Dakota," joked Leahy, who took over from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) last month as committee chairman when Democrats regained control of the Senate.
"Reaganomics has devastated American agriculture," Leahy said. "The combination of tax cuts, increased defense spending and high interest rates, which resulted in staggering budget deficits and an overvalued dollar, destroyed our balance of agricultural trade.
"We're going back to basics. We're not going to reinvent the wheel, but we'd like to see where it's stuck, and maybe give it a kick," he told about 100 members of the civic organization.
A complete overhaul of existing programs isn't the answer either, he said.
"We are not going to rewrite the 1985 farm bill," he said.
Leahy said that in the new 100th Congress, agriculture trade will get top billing, new farm credit and pesticide legislation will be enacted and farm support programs will be tightened.
Leahy said he is open to almost any suggestion to solving the nation's farm problems.
"There are only two types of approaches that I'm ruling off limits: the heartless approach and the careless approach," he said.