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More Farm Bill News from the Farm Journal Forum

December 6, 2011

At the annual Farm Journal Forum in Washington, DC today, Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said the farm bill prepared for consideration by the congressional Super Committee will serve as the “foundation” for efforts to write and enact a farm bill next year, starting in February.

Noting that the process this year was unusual and accelerated, the Chairwoman noted “we did important reforms” and “achieved a tremendous amount.”  She indicated her plans to take the next steps to “put together the final workings of the farm bill” next year and to pass a bill “as soon as possible.”

In her concluding comments, Stabenow reiterated “We won’t start from zero.  We have expedited the process by flushing out the areas where we really need to do more work.”

Her view contrasted to a degree at least with the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee, Pat Roberts (R-KS), who earlier during the same conference reiterated his view that the bill prepared for Super Committee consideration should be scrapped with bill development starting  over again in a more normal and open process.

Peterson’s ‘Hail Mary’ Pass

A third member of the ‘big four’ who worked on the bill this year, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), also addressed the Farm Journal Forum crowd.  Peterson suggested a long shot approach, using the farm bill prepared for the Super Committee as an offset for the so-called “doctor fix” to Medicare, one of four or five big spending issues that Congress is trying to pass before the holidays.  The proposed $23 billion in farm bill savings over ten years is nearly identical to the one-year cost of the doctor fix, which seeks to stave off a big reduction in Medicare payments to physicians.

Peterson said that both he and Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) have let it be known to their colleagues that the farm bill offset is an option they would consider.  Peterson indicated that he was a likely ‘no’ vote on any of the remaining big spending issues for the year  (payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance extension, doctor fix, Alternative Minimum Tax patch, etc.) though he and other Agriculture Committee members might lean the other way if the farm bill — plus a deal to exempt the farm bill from any later automatic cuts — was made part of the package.

Lucas did not address the Forum.

The general reaction in the room to Peterson’s trail balloon was that is was extremely unlikely to happen.

On farm bill timing for next year, should that come to pass, Peterson suggested that the entire bill could be worked on and adopted in both houses and a House-Senate conference by May.  He generally agreed with Stabenow that the bill prepared for the Super Committee should serve as the foundation.  Peterson said the dairy provisions are pretty much agreed to by all parties involved and are basically finished in his view.  He said he would urge Lucas and Stabenow to make at least that section of the bill public.

Conservation Title

All three congressional speakers were united in their generally very favorable comments on the draft conservation title.  All three noted it was an area where most of the hard work is already finished and that they are pleased with the outcome.

Stabenow described the conservation title in terms of creating “five buckets” or five “tools,” those being working lands programs (Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program), regional partnerships (targeted, competitive cooperative conservation projects), a consolidated easement program (with a wetlands component and an ag lands component), the Conservation Reserve Program, and a fifth bucket that was a grab bag of remaining programs that do not fit in the other categories.

NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner addressed the Forum as part of a panel that included representatives of the Risk Management Agency and the National Corn Growers Association.  His remarks also focused in part on the conservation title, noting the many positive features of the draft bill as well possible places for further improvements.

Hoefner also took issue with an earlier speaker at the conference who suggested that farm programs were taking a disproportionate budget cut hit relative to conservation programs.   Correcting the record, Hoefner noted that in fact the percentage cut is nearly identical when looking at the farm bill alone, but the cut is actually substantially disproportional the other way, against conservation, when including changes to farm bill mandatory spending made by Congress in the annual appropriations bill.  That issue was one of several that he suggested as areas for further improvements within the conservation title.

Hoefner also noted that NSAC’s support for the farm bill would hinge in part on the re-establishment of effective targeting and conservation compliance with respect to commodity and crop insurance programs.

He also suggested there are now a short period of a few months in which to craft robust, forward looking credit, rural development, agricultural research, and other titles of the farm bill that necessarily received short shrift during the accelerated process of preparing a bill for Super Committee consideration.

The 13th annual Farm Journal Forum was hosted with support from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.  The forum heard from Buffett and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman among other speakers.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill

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