The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) was debuted yesterday by House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). The bill makes deeper spending cuts than the Senate version and reduces nutrition assistance significantly.
"This bill is an investment in production agriculture and rural America," Lucas said. "Those of us in the agriculture community are quick to point out that our producers provide us with the safest, most abundant, most affordable food and fiber supply in the history of the world. This legislation is a commitment to maintaining that tradition."
The House version is very similar to that of the Senate in that it eliminates direct payments, reforms commodity policy, cuts nutrition assistance and consolidates conservation programs. The bill is anticipated to save more than $35 billion in mandated spending.
"I have long believed every government program must contribute toward deficit reduction and while I would have found other ways to accomplish the bill’s nutrition savings, the bottom line is that, working together, we need to keep this farm bill moving forward," Peterson said. "There will be challenges ahead, but we will pass the bill out of committee next week and, if the House leadership gets this right and brings the bill to the floor, we will ultimately finish the bill in September."
Two significant differences between this bill and the bill passed through the Senate last month are the increased cuts to nutrition spending and more protection for Southern farmers with the inclusion of the sugar program.
The House bill cuts nutrition spending four times more than the Senate version of the bill, saving taxpayers an estimated $16 billion. The change "closes loopholes, eliminates state performance bonuses, cracks down on waste, fraud and abuse, and strengthens program integrity and accountability."
Increased protection for Southern farmers includes a one-time option to choose between a revenue loss program and a new target price program. The first option would cover shallow losses for producers prior to insurance payment and the latter protects farmers through multiple-year price declines. The Senate version of the bill only opted for a target price program, ignoring concern from Southern rice farmers. The bill also includes the sugar title of the bill, but will operate at no cost to the taxpayer.
"We have a commodity title in place that will work for all parts of the country as well as continued support for the sugar program and my Dairy Security Act," Peterson said.
Not everyone is thrilled with the bill, which will begin the markup process next week.
"I am very concerned about some of the differences between the two bills," said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), referencing greater cuts to the nutrition spending differences. She said she commends Lucas and Peterson for moving forward with their version of the bill and expects it will be completed by the deadline.
"I expect them to have a successful markup and for House leadership to give them time on the House floor as soon as possible so that we can finish the 2012 farm bill in a timely manner," she said.