Budget Cut Comparison: $1.2 Trillion Vs $23 Billion

November 11, 2011 01:29 AM

Farm bill budget-cutting process should be easy compared to Super Committee task


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Perhaps it would have been easier for select Agriculture panel members (either two or four depending on which sources you believe) and their staffs to conclude farm bill negotiations if cuts were beyond the self-recommended $23 billion level. Reason: less to spar over.

Timeline. The farm-state lawmakers, it appears, have taken just as much time, if not longer, to come up with budget cuts compared to the much larger task of the 12-member Super Committee, which has to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over ten years.

A package of interrelated what-if scares confronts some but not all farm bill stakeholders: What if the Super Committee fails to reach consensus and the farm bill has to be dealt with outside the protection of the no-amendment, no filibuster Super Committee process? What if the Super Committee, even if it reaches a debt-reduction consensus, decides not to include any behind-closed-door farm bill results? What if the Super Committee wants additional agriculture savings beyond the $23 billion mark? What if the $23 billion, even if approved as part of the Super Committee, is not the last word when lawmakers take on additional debt reduction chores in the future if the US economy remains tepid?

Many now-favored farm bill stakeholders say the process is too complex for an election-year conclusion and should be dealt with via the current secretive process. They also privately worry about how any farm bill proposal written by panel leaders would fare among the 89 new House Republicans. But others say those are the reasons any omnibus measure like the farm bill should, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised when he became that chamber's leader, be as transparent as possible and dealt with via ample floor debate and amendments.

It wasn't so long ago that some farm bill players wanted to wait until 2012 to write the omnibus package because they felt the U.S. economy, and thus the deficit/debt situation, would be improved. That is no longer the strategy. Just look to Europe and the tepid US economy for the strategy-changing reasons.

Those outside the "primary" farm bill environment cannot fathom the logic behind any individual or group still supporting paying out nearly $5 billion in annual "direct payments" to farm program crop participants, no matter the price for their commodity. And despite the fact that the average farmer income and net worth is above that of the non-farmer citizen. They say talk about risk factors to the millions of unemployed in the US.

Busted timeline. The four Agriculture leaders – the chairs and the ranking members of both panels – gave themselves another self-pushed deadline to complete the "process": November 1. As with the vast majority of congressional deadlines, it was missed. Then something happened after November 1, according to some congressional sources. A meeting on Nov. 2 was suddenly attended by only two of the Ag panel leaders, and their staffs. And still no agreement, even though the decision makers apparently were cut in half.

Now what? If history is any guide, a framework agreement will be reached, and announced. If not, a real farm bill debate will unfold. In public. Not behind closed doors. But a veteran farm bill watcher asks, "Do those groups who are carping at the current process really think they will get a 'better' deal if virtually any lawmaker becomes involved?"


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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