Farm Bill Meetings Have Consensus: Budget-Cutters Prevail

August 26, 2011 05:25 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Sens. Stabenow, Roberts, Lugar size up farm bill debate

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

Farm-state lawmakers can hold as many forums, hearings, or whatever they want to call their sessions, but they are finally coming to the conclusion that should have been evident months ago: how much money in the farm bill budget baseline will largely determine what lawmakers think should be the major components of the next omnibus farm bill.

Roberts focuses on need for safety net. During the Wichita, Kansas-based farm bill gathering by the Senate Ag Committee, Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) said, "Without an adequate safety net many producers will struggle to secure operating loans and lines of credit to cover input and equipment costs. We need those producers to stay in business if we're going to meet this global challenge and do so in a way that protects our most valuable resource – our future generations."

Roberts continued, "Some folks question the need for a farm bill with commodity prices where they are today. I don't have to tell this crowd that prices can fall much more quickly than they rise.

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said her primary focus would be crafting agriculture programs that meet the needs of farmers and "help our our country on better financial footing for years to come." That, again, signals the budget aspect role in the coming debate.

"Agriculture has already taken substantial, and in my judgment, disproportionate cuts," Stabenow said.

Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus told lawmakers that it was important not to raise premiums for crop insurance, especially if direct payments are to be cut/eliminated.

"We cannot afford this kind of weakening in the safety net," Baccus said, according to the Associated Press.

But it was Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), another member of the Senate Ag panel, who more succinctly put the farm bill-budget linkage into perspective. Lugar held a "listening session" at the Allen County Fairgrounds and, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, said that while Congress typically takes several months to study, debate and refine the farm bill, it will be a "pretty short march" this time around. Why? Because of the time crunch relative to the Super Committee and the need for a budget-cutting agreement, Lugar said the 12-member panel "might make decisions about agriculture that are not formulated by the ag committees in the House or the Senate, that are not informed by listening and speaking to groups" in the business of agriculture.

"This is a critical moment, and it's one that has great controversy and great emotion attached to it," Lugar said.

Comments: These public acknowledgements are ones that farm-state lawmakers should have been making months ago. And, Lugar is likely very correct in his assessment that it will shorten the timeline for the next farm bill. That could make the farm bill process a far different one than we have seen in prior efforts in writing this omnibus legislation.

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






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