Farm Bill Proposals Still a Liquid Process

November 1, 2011 02:20 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Growing number of observers fault behind-closed-door process

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

Agriculture Committee leaders did not go into the omnibus farm bill process wanting to write major portions of the legislation behind closed doors. But that is what is happening. Whether or not the results of that narrow focus will be part of the Super Committee package remains to be seen.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka Super Committee) must vote by Nov. 23 on its recommendations, including implementing legislation. That report must include a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of the proposals' budgetary impact. CBO has signaled that to give it time to complete its analysis, the proposals should be completed by the end of this week. Ag panels leaders have indicated they must have legislative language regarding parts of the farm bill in place by early November. It's early November.

A majority vote of the 12 Super Committee members is required to approve the recommendations, and the report, legislation and vote must be made public.

Should the Super Committee fail to meet the Nov. 23 deadline, the legislation would lose its privileged status for expedited floor consideration in the House and Senate.

Regarding farm policy ideas being considered, some of the "G4" leaders (Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts, and Reps. Frank Lucas and Collin Peterson) have offered some signals as to what is in play.

It appears that the G4 are having a difficult time coming up with program changes equitable to all major commodities, notably southern crops. One possible solution, sources advise, may be to provide some growers a choice: a tweaking of the current program (higher target prices, lower to no or a phased-elimination of direct payments). There are clear indications that there will be a major move to revenue assurance, with protection for some so-called "shallow losses" not covered by crop insurance. Key to the details regarding revenue assurance reform is the guarantee price, and the level of losses not covered by crop insurance. Various proposals would cover losses from 5 to 25 percent, with Rep. Peterson recently saying the plan would ensure that farmers can collect up to 90 percent of a preset value on their crops.

As for the farm bill and Super Committee process, some label it an utter mockery of the legislative process. This group noted that the US Congress is essentially pursuing policy "reforms" and some relatively significant changes through staff experimentation without the perfecting process known as debate and amendments. One veteran Capitol Hill contact said the process "runs contrary to everything I believe the Speaker (House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio) intended when he talked of 'opening up the People's house' and a restoration of regular order."

Others said that the unwritten truth is that the current farm bill process is being entrusted with a number of staff who are in their respective positions for less than a year – considering we have two new Chairs as a result of the 2010 elections. One observer stressed that he is "not chastising them or calling into question their professionalism. They are doing their jobs; but ultimately they are staffing elected members of committees in a process that is anything but legislating by committee."

Meanwhile, some commodity interests -- like those in California that represent the fruit/vegetable/specialty crops -- are howling in protest at the process that has unfolded. They claim they are being "left out" by this top-rank process. And that's a claim that as noted before could jeopardize the goal of developing a policy that is fair and balanced across all commodity lines. And, one that could lead to some unintended consequences with so few vetting the possible impacts.

And even if some of the farm bill details are wrapped into an eventual Super Committee package, additional farm bill issues will need to be decided, sources advise.


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






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