Farm Bill Update: Senate on Faster Course, But Hurdles Remain

April 17, 2012 02:44 AM
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Senate farm bill language | House Ag panel budget cuts | New trade policy position? | More House farm bill hearings

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

-- The Senate Ag Committee as soon as this week could release draft language regarding the new farm bill. A markup session is likely the week of April 23.

-- The coming Senate farm bill draft will be similar to the language farm-state leaders proposed as part of the failed Super Committee process last fall. It is expected to include a controversial provision that would base risk management payments on on-farm prices and not county-level values, as is the likely approach in the House. The Senate approach, if taken, would cost $8 billion more than the county-level price trigger. The Senate farm bill language may not have a farmer-choice option (Ag Risk Coverage or higher target prices) that was part of last fall's draft. It may be limited to a new risk management program.)

-- The Senate farm bill draft could include a new trade official slot at USDA. The position, reportedly favored by Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) would be a new undersecretary for trade. While there are several trade policy-oriented officials at USDA now, some say an undersecretary post would elevate key issues which help drive so many agriculture markets. Others have noted the decline in the export policy arena at USDA over the past decade or so. Some USDA officials are against any move for the new undersecretary post.

-- Do not read much if anything from Wednesday's budget reconciliation markup (HConRes 112) in the House Ag Committee. The Ag panel must find $7.7 billion in spending reductions for Fiscal 2013 under the Republican budget resolution, and the vast bulk if not all of the cuts will come from domestic food aid – primarily food stamps/SNAP. The Ag panel will reportedly cut $33.2 billion over 10 years, mostly from food stamp funding. The House chamber today will deem the budget as a final budget resolution adopted by both chambers, a move that would set the House’s $1.028 trillion discretionary spending cap as an enforceable limit for House appropriations bills. “When the Senate refuses to act, the House must take steps to ensure that it can responsibly proceed with the appropriations and budget process,” according to a statement on the Rules Committee’s website.

The largest source of savings would come from ending a requirement in 16 states and the District of Columbia that payments under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) automatically trigger eligibility for SNAP. Ending the trigger would save $14.3 billion over 10 years, according to a background paper. An additional $11.7 billion would be saved by ending automatic SNAP eligibility for people receiving help through programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. A third provision would save $5.9 billion by reducing family SNAP benefits by 11 percent by moving up the expiration of a benefit increase enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus law.

-- The Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday will mark up a budget resolution written by Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), but the measure won’t move to the floor and may not have the votes to pass in the committee. Conrad today will hold a press conference to preview his budget after briefing his Democratic colleagues on the plan Monday evening. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for months has stated the Senate does not need to consider a budget this year because the 2011 debt limit agreement set discretionary spending levels for Fiscal 2012 and 2013 and put in place other budget enforcement mechanisms.

-- The House Ag Committee will soon announce up to seven farm bill-related hearings, most if not all of them at the subcommittee level. This will allow time for the Senate to report its farm bill out of the Ag Committee. But most congressional contacts give low odds of either the Senate or House taking up an omnibus farm bill before the November elections. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has reportedly said a new farm bill is on this year's agenda, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has reportedly told those asking him about the matter that the House will not consider a farm bill before elections.

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






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