SURE Backers Seek Extension of Program Via Any Farm Bill Conference

July 20, 2012 02:52 AM
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

But controversial program faces rocky road in House

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

The ongoing drought gripping several areas of the U.S. is impacting the farm bill debate in several ways, observers note.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said no separate ag-disaster bill is needed because the crop insurance program should provide adequate protection for farmers who took the highly subsidized programs.

But several Democratic members want to revive the controversial Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE) and cover losses from this year. Funding for SURE to cover 2012 crops, as well as three livestock disaster programs, was taken out of the 2008 Farm Bill by Democratic House and Senate leaders due to budget considerations. Now some of those same Democratic and some Republican lawmakers are urging retroactive funding for the expired programs.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) added an extension of the livestock programs to the farm bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee, but the SURE provision was not included. Instead, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently introduced a bill that would resurrect that program, with some significant changes aimed at getting SURE payments to producers far earlier than the existing timeline.

Could have, should have. “Farmers could have protected themselves with crop insurance, but a lot of times they don’t buy sufficient coverage,” said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), “If we can get this thing (farm bill) to conference … my expectation would be that we would extend the disaster provisions for the 2012 crop.”

But attaching SURE to the farm bill could prove another hurdle in a delicate farm bill balance. Conservative Republicans note the SURE legislation cost far more than the projections ahead of the 2008 Farm Bill conclusion. So SURE — which in December 2011 issued $2.8 billion for 2008 and 2009 losses — could make farm-bill passage even harder.

SURE has several faults, one of which is that the program does not pay out until well after such payments are needed. That is why some SURE opponents say the current push to include SURE funding in a farm bill conference has a pre-election component because it can take up to two years to pay out under the program. For example, signup for 2010 losses ended earlier this summer and a signup for 2011 losses is expected to start sometime this fall.

Big, separate SURE pay cap. Conservative lawmakers also note that the expired SURE program had a separate $100,000 payment limitation.

The recent SURE proposal introduced by Sen. Baucus would extend SURE and accelerate its payment process, addressing one of the key complaints about the program. It may be taken up separately and not linked to the farm bill. While that measure could pass the Senate, it is unlikely to clear the House – at least at this juncture.

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






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