Stabenow Could Unveil 'Plan B' Farm Bill Strategy at Tuesday's Farm Journal Forum

December 3, 2011 05:35 AM
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Senate chair may provide some details on key issues, timeline

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

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) speaks next Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the Farm Journal Forum, being co-presented by Informa Economics, Inc. She will likely discuss “Plan B” for a new farm bill after the Super Committee-linked farm bill strategy failed when the 12-member panel could not reach agreement on at least $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over 10 years.

What will be markup vehicle? Among the many omnibus farm bill issues is whether the farm bill package worked on by Stabenow and House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and their staffs will serve as a markup vehicle ahead, or whether, as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Ranking Member on the Senate Ag Committee, who will also speak early Tuesday at the event, the farm bill process should hit restart, beginning with hearings and public and private analysis of various policy options, and not just limited to a select few outside economists, some of whom have consulting contracts with others. (Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Ranking Member on the House Ag Committee, will also provide comments at the Farm Journal Forum.)

One murky issue is how much money the coming farm bill will spend – that is, how many billions of dollars will be cut from the farm bill baseline. The aborted farm bill package identified $23 billion in such cuts over 10 years – around $13 billion from commodity programs, $6 billion from conservation spending and $4 billion from nutrition programs (largely via administrative changes).

Direct payments elimination still likely. The Stabenow/Lucas farm bill package would have eliminated the around $5 billion paid out annually in direct payments, and this is expected to be a feature of the “Plan B” or other farm bill proposals.

Pending farm policy issues include the fate of the previously proposed Ag Risk Coverage (ARC), a revenue protection program, or an option to take much higher target prices for most program commodities but not cotton, which wanted a “crop insurance” program of their own called STAX (which, if sources are correct, would mean no payment limits for cotton producers via the STAX approach).

Conservation program consolidation, from around 23 current programs to around 13 to 15, was also part of the Stabenow/Lucas plan, with the maximum acres for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) phased down over several years from the current 32 million acre level to 25 million acres.

Senate farm bill timeline. Stabenow plans to begin a new round of farm bill hearings in late January or early February, with a new goal of completing a bill in the Senate by early spring – a timeline some sources say may not be reached for the simple reason it has been very hard to get almost anything through that chamber.

Lucas has said his timeline for completing a House farm bill would primarily be determined by the Senate and the impacts of across-the-board (sequestration) cuts on agriculture and nutrition programs. The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for automatic spending cuts should the so-called Super Committee fail in their debt reduction efforts, which they did. But the ATB cuts, equally divided between defense and nondefense spending, would not take effect until Jan. 2, 2013 – after the Nov. 3, 2012 elections and thus subject to legislative changes.

OMB issues ahead. Lucas, according to Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Today, said the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) still has to determine “one, what will sequestration be for ag? No. 2, how will it be implemented?” Lucas said his understanding is “the way sequestration works is that it is essentially OMB that interprets the language. How OMB interprets that dramatically affects how the programs that are subject to sequestration are affected. There are too many pieces in play.”

OMB spokeswoman Margaret L. Reilly told CQ that sequestration will not start until Jan. 2, 2013, leaving enough time for Congress to approve a different set of reductions. “In the meantime, government operations for this fiscal year continue as normal. When appropriate, OMB will take necessary steps to ensure that if there is a sequester, the government is prepared for it,” Reilly wrote in response to an inquiry from CQ Today.

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






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