How Senate Ag Panel Members Spent $23.4 Million a Minute

May 17, 2012 06:37 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Spend-happy Senate continues with mega farm bill spending

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

Let's take a look at the Senate Ag Committee's work on clearing a new farm bill.

Gavel to gavel it took the Senate Ag Committee 4 hours and 33 minutes to markup the around 900-page farm bill. However, that included 29 minutes of recess for floor votes and 1 hour 39 minutes for opening statements. So, the committee was actually in session 4 hours and 4 minutes. Of that time, 2 hours 25 minutes was actually spent on debate and amendments.

Even looking at the full 4 hours and 33 minutes, that is pretty unprecedented for getting a farm bill marked up -- Senate or House; 2 hours and 25 minutes for actual debate, amendments, votes and final passage is unheard of.

Well, there is another way to look at this: How much additional money was spent in the "real time" taken to debate the farm bill measure from the Congressional Budget Office's initial budget savings estimate from the ten-year baseline?

Dissecting CBO estimates. The Congressional Budget Office initially scored the package as saving $26.4 billion over ten years, some $3.4 billion above the projected savings mark for the package. But based on changes made via the Manager's Amendment put the savings level at $24.7 billion. And the action in the committee pared that savings level further, but it is not clear how much, but it looks like just over $23 billion. So let's use $23 billion.

Remember, this is just based on the additional money spent during the Senate Ag panel markup... not the total spending of the omnibus measure, which is around $972 billion.

Background: Most of the $995 billion baseline for mandatory farm bill programs, $722 billion, is for domestic nutrition assistance programs, primarily SNAP/Food stamp funding, with the rest, about $223 billion, divided among ag-related programs, primarily crop insurance ($90 billion), farm commodity price and income supports ($63 billion), and conservation ($65 billion). So the total spending for the coming farm bill is a major topic, and one that does not get much media play, especially from farm-related groups and lawmakers, but fiscal-minded groups and lawmakers are beginning to notice because that is lot of money, even for Washington.

Agriculture's ATM machine. T
he $3.4 billion difference in "savings" that was spent from CBO's initial 10-year savings projections for the farm bill mean Ag panel members spent $23.448 million a minute during their markup.

To be fair, a proponent of what was spent in the Ag Committee markup said this, "The $26.4 billion was never really an expected number. Some things were purposely left out of the initial mark due to negotiations that were taking place, so everyone knew that one was artificially high – or, they should have known. The $24.7 billion was pretty solid, but actually a little high because of the commodity changes that were still being negotiated and expected as well. The real big change was the addition of the energy amendment at $800 million. If that amendment had actually stayed offset, as originally proposed, total savings would have probably come in around $24 billion. Baring some CBO surprise, the final reported bill should come in just over $23 billion in savings over ten years."


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






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