Farm Bill Work Occurring Again Behind Closed Doors

Agriculture Congressional leaders working on setting up the farm bill as part of a bigger scheme in fiscal cliff discussions.

Reports indicated Congressional agriculture leaders see the fiscal cliff as the most promising way to get the farm bill across the finish line, although it remains a tall order.

As you recall the "fiscal cliff" was created in 2011 to force the then Super Committee to come together on a grand compromise of getting the nation's budget house in order. The scheduled sequestration cuts scheduled to go into effect in 2013 because of the Super Committee's failure again requires Congress to come across party lines and meet in the middle.

The four principals on Capitol Hill - Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., were the only committee to present significant savings in 2011.

And the same four have been at it again working behind closed doors to settle their differences and use the "savings" from a five-year farm bill as part of a compromise to pay down the debt. The Administration and House Republicans continue to dance around the issue of reaching the middle, staying staunchly in their own corners and providing little compromise.

The Senate-passed farm and food legislation saves about $23 billion, while the version approved by the House Agriculture Committee would save about $33 billion. Current word is that Congressional leaders are seeking up to $35 billion in savings, the National Assn. of Wheat Growers (NAWG) reported in their newsletter Dec. 6.

The two biggest differences between the two chambers' versions is the commodity title, specifically whether target prices more palatable to Southern producers should be allowed, and the amount of food stamps savings.

In a letter from American Soybean Association (ASA) President Danny Murphy, ASA restated its support for many of the provisions included in both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill, and expressed specific support for the Senate’s Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program, which will provide important protection against reductions in both price and yield. ASA also pointed out major drawbacks to the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) option included in the House bill identified in a recent analysis by AgRisk Management, LLC.

ASA’s letter concluded that "if this option is included in the final farm bill, payments must be decoupled from current-year production and tied to historical crop acreages."

Stabenow said she will not accept the House's approach to slashing $16 billion in funding for food stamps, but would support increasing potential efficiencies and anti-fraud efforts in the nutrition title beyond the $4 billion proposed in the Senate version.

Speaking at a forum Thursday morning Lucas and Stabenow acknowledged that farm bill talks remain at the mercy of a grand deal, but also expressed optimism. Lucas did concede that something may need to be done to transition programs, but Stabenow continues to say legislators need to avoid an extension if possible.

Peterson has been outspoken against an extension, but he has said he would support it if it includes his dairy market stabilization program. One of the biggest issues Jan. 1 without a new farm bill is the outrageous milk support limit.

Leading commodity groups including the ASA, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), National Corn Growers Assn. (NCGA) and NAWG met Wednesday with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) to reiterate the critical importance of finishing a new, five-year farm bill before Congress adjourns.

"We have come to the bargaining table with concrete spending reductions, and remain the only industry that has done so," said ASA president Steve Wellman. "We are, as we have been, open to compromise, provided that the end product is a new, five-year farm bill that enables America’s farmers to continue producing the safest and most abundant food supply in the world."

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