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Senate Ag panel leaders appear sensitive to growing criticism of nearly $1 trillion panel farm bill
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Senate Ag Committee leaders scheduled a press briefing the same time a House Ag subcommittee held a hearing on key topics for coming farm bill: commodity programs and crop insurance.
House vs Senate. It didn't take long for Rep.Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, to set his target on (1) the lack of target prices in the Senate panel bill and (2) saying the Senate measure "competes with and duplicates crop insurance."
House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the farm bill must be written "with bad times in mind" and must "work for all regions and all commodities," a not so hidden reference that the Senate bill lacks adequate protection for some southern-based crops, notably rice and peanuts.
But it was a comment from Dr. Joe Outlaw, Texas A&M University economist, that will likely be a litmus test ahead for the many hurdles the farm bill must jump through before being passed by Congress and signed into law. At this morning's House hearing, Outlaw said the Senate's proposed Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) program would allow growers of commodities such as corn to "nearly lock in a profit" in the future. That statement will likely be picked up and kept by World Trade Organization (WTO) members such as Brazil and perhaps Mexico.
Outlaw said a better risk management approach for low-price years would be the target-price mechanism proposed last fall by Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Lucas as part of the leaders' attempt to attach farm bill language to a deficit reduction package which failed to get approved by the so-called Super Committee. Outlaw's conclusion was based on an analysis of the impact on representative farms around the country. ARC would provide higher support than target prices for most of the model farms if prices reamin at levels projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
While the House subcommittee hearing was unfolding, Stabenow and Ranking Republican Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) defended their farm bill approach. Despite signing off on higher target prices in last fall's farm bill package, Stabenow said, "Who do we want setting prices, the marketplace or Congress? We came down on the side of the marketplace" relative to the eventual ARC language she and her panel approved.
Stabenow acknowledged "differences" with the House, noting "they can be worked out."