Farm Bill Timeline: All Excuses, But Plenty of Time to Finish This Year

April 12, 2012 01:59 AM
 

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Finding another $10 billion in budget savings for House bill isn't so hard


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


A growing list of farm-state lawmakers and others are touting the high hurdles and lack of time to get a farm bill completed this year. Lack of time? The bill was written last fall! Sure some tweaks have to be made, but let's face it, Congress hasn't done much of anything for months. So what do they do on Capitol Hill besides take breaks?

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is the latest lawmaker to discuss the farm bill timeline. In an interview with the Gannett Washington Bureau, Grassley said Congress will need to pass a new farm bill by August or else lawmakers will have to delay the process until next year.

What is so different about next year? We could well have a different Senate Ag Committee leader – Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and while there may not be all that many differences, there will be a few. And it takes Congress a while to staff up for any leadership changes.

Will the budget process be any different next year than this year? It could be worse.

The Senate and House Ag panels will have different budget-savings amounts to reach – it looks like the Senate will stick with the $23 billion in ten-year savings that was part of the botched farm bill attempt last fall via the 'Stuper Committee' which couldn't even come up with $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over ten years.

The House Ag Committee will likely have to cut around $33 billion over ten years – if they follow the will of the GOP leadership. Coming up with that extra $10 billion may not be as hard as some think. Oh some will howl, but if you have to cut you have to cut.

Where the $10 billion can be found. During the farm bill "debate" last fall, Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) pushed to make a big change in the proposed new risk management program called Ag Risk Coverage (ARC). The northern-tier senators wanted an on-farm price trigger rather than the county price trigger in the initial proposal. While Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) went along with the senators' request, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said it would cost another $8 billion over ten years. That forced a major change in the percentage formula of ARC payments – from 85 percent to 60 percent of planted acres not to exceed base acres.

So $8 billion can be found by just returning to the original ARC formula.

And with Conrad no longer a senator next year (he's retiring), the odds of getting the $8 billion plus for northern—tier states gets lower if the farm bill is bumped to 2013. So the same North Dakota and Montana crowd who is pushing so hard for the major ARC change should be working just as hard to get the omnibus bill done this year.

Finding another $2 billion beyond the $8 billion should not be that hard when you realize how many billions of dollars are in the budget baseline.

Congress should just do its job. You do what you have to do. Get it done. And see if the votes are there. If not, try another approach. But not to attempt is not doing the job, and why so many voters have such low ratings for this Congress.

So the next time you hear a farm-state lawmaker or farm group lobbyist say it is hard to get a farm bill done this year, ask them why? Ask them why can't decisions be made because sooner or later they will have to be made. Why not now?


 

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


 

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