Farm aid shows budget cutting mood softening

When the farm state representatives marched into the United States Capitol and found both the sympathy and the votes for farm credit aid, they made Alan Beals happy, even though his chief concerns are urban. ``We've been watching it with keen interest,'' he said of the farm lobby. As executive director of the National League of Cities, he has had little to celebrate recently as he tries to defend federal aid to cities from the Reagan budget axe. But at the end of last week he said, ``I'm smiling.''

Congressional approval for emergency help to farmers is the ``most solid evidence'' that the federal austerity mood is softening, said Mr. Beals. And he argued that his case for low-income housing aid, revenue sharing, and economic grants is stronger ``particularly when you look at the fact that subsidies for farmers have gone up consistently over a period of several years,'' while urban programs have been cut dramatically.

The farm effort also has provided some comfort to the United States Student Association, said lobbyist Katherine Ozer.

She held that there's an ``urgency'' for federal aid to college students just as there was for farmers.

Her group estimates that 2 million students would be hit by the Reagan administration's proposed 25 percent cut in student loans and grants. Members of the association are expected to follow the farmer's path to Washington later this month to lobby Congress.

An Amtrak defender pointed to the eight GOP senators who broke ranks to vote for emergency farm credit aid.

``That was encouraging, to see members of the President's own party thinking independently,'' said Barry Williams, assistant director of the 11,500-member National Association of Railroad Passengers.

The Reagan administration has proposed eliminating the Amtrak subsidy, which will be about $684 million this year.

The key to defeating the plan in Congress is to have the public tell members ``we do need trains,'' said Mr. Williams. But he added that, so far, the flow of mail from train users has been spotty.

Not all lobbyists agree that the farm example will help them shield favorite federal programs.

Charles B. Saunders Jr., of the American Council on Education, said, ``We certainly don't have any right to feel any easier'' about aid to higher education. He called the farm emergency a special case.

Mr. Saunders is scouting out the way Congress deals with defense, instead, he said, because ``if they agree to a freeze in defense,'' it would be difficult to argue against one for education as well.

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