Farm Bill Overreach: CBO Says Farm Leaders' Plan Falls Short of $23 Billion Self-Proposed Cuts

November 16, 2011 11:49 PM
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Ag panel staff working with CBO to get budget score to target level

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

It is back to the drawing board for some key provisions of behind-closed-door negotiations among just a few lawmakers relative to what is turning out to be thus far an overreach new farm bill. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the latest set of proposals it received and fond them not matching the $23 billion in cuts over ten years that Ag Panel leaders proposed themselves.

The apparent problem, some sources signal, is overreach by some farm groups and lawmakers who have insisted that a new revenue assurance program be based on farm triggers, not state, county or crop reporting districts as some early proposals offered. That apparently added billions of dollars in additional costs.

Farm-state lawmakers have a history of working closely with CBO analysts, going back and forth between their respective offices until they get the “score” they need. With each CBO analysis comes a glimmer of what is needed to reach the end zone – at least from a budget exposure perspective.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and one of his staff aides, former USDA Undersecretary Jim Miller, have been reportedly very aggressive, as expected, in pushing a wheat program they believe is a more equitable program more in line with what other key commodities may get via the new farm bill process. Conrad favors a revenue protection program to help farmers who experience income losses of 10 percent to 25 percent based on a producer’s average whole farm revenue. The program would be tied to federally subsidized crop insurance, which would cover larger, catastrophic losses. Annual direct payments based solely on past crop production history of acres would be reduced or eliminated and several programs eliminated, including counter-cyclical programs that make payments to farmers when revenue or prices fall below preset levels.

It is now widely known that the two leaders of the Ag Committees, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) have reportedly pushed a three-tiered approach to address differences in regional crop production and crop prices. Their plan includes revenue protection programs for corn, soybeans and wheat, a solo revenue assurance scheme for cotton, and much higher target prices (and thus big potential counter-cyclical payments ahead) for rice, sorghum and peanuts.

But some potential World Trade Organization (WTO) issues have some panel staffers reviewing the cotton industry proposal.

The farm bill negotiations have been a behind-closed-door process, with Stabenow and Lucas, and some of their staff, taking a very restrictive approach, contacts advise. While the leaders have reportedly consulted with more Ag panel members of late, lingering frustration among some members continues.

Meanwhile, 27 House members and several groups have lodged protests and expressed concerns to the deficit reduction committee about a “secret farm bill” process and the possibility that the comprehensive policy bill would not be subject to amendment in floor debate if it is included in an overall deficit reduction package.

Comments: I've said over the years that farm-state lawmakers and especially their staff know full well how to game the CBO analysts. They are like the woodchucks who live under my porch and deck -- they have a well-worn trail to and from their feeding environment, in this case the CBO analysts' offices. It's just a matter of time before the secretive farm bill process reaches the numbers they need. The more major unknown, however, is whether or not the so-called Super Committee, which to date has not been so super, will ever reach an agreement on cutting at least $1.2 trillion in debt over ten years. If those panel members fail, it will be quite interesting to see the next steps from the behind-closed-door ag leaders.

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






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