Will Ag Panel Leaders Get a Farm Bill Dateline Reprieve?

November 16, 2011 12:00 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Multiple-step Super Committee process likely

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

Agriculture Committee leaders facing major farm bill issues both inside and outside the secretive process may have a longer-than-expected timeline to reach agreement as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka Super committee) will likely adopt what one of the panel’s cochairs, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) describes as a "two-step process."

Spring deadline? The Super Committee, under a plan being discussed by congressional leaders, would give the House and Senate tax-writing committees (and possibly other committees overseeing entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid and farm policy) principles and "goals" for them to turn into legislation by certain dates, possibly as late as next spring.

The key unknown is whether specific farm bill language would be protected from amendments later, perhaps limiting that protection to the designated savings the Ag panels must offer. But others think congressional leaders would protect the panels' specific plans. If so, that would allow more time to work out lingering farm bill issues.

As for new farm bill developments, disagreements within the Ag panel and among some farm groups have escalated in recent days as the pressing Super Committee "deadlines" approach. Commodity groups representing cotton, rice, peanuts and grain sorghum on Tuesday urged the development of a farm bill that "maintains equity among all of US agriculture." But a farm bill insider on Capitol Hill said, "The farm and commodity groups still don’t get it. This isn’t about their fair shares. Regardless of your political party affiliation, our country is at unsustainable debt levels. Agriculture and the Agriculture Committee baselines are targets. The majority of people and members of Congress don’t care about 'fair shares' among commodities and regions. They just want cuts."

If the multiple-step process is the route taken, as most now expect, then it will be interesting to see possible changes in the farm bill writing process. Some observers say Ag panel leaders should open up the process depending on how much additional time is provided to settle the now-contentious issues. That could include an actual markup vehicle and Ag Committee consideration. This would likely lead to different House and Senate Ag panel approaches to farm bill details that would then have to be reconciled before sending any finished product to the Super Committee sometime in 2012.

A key unknown, the exact debt reduction figure for agriculture, could or should be revealed in the coming days. Whether that is the self-proposed $23 billion figure of the Ag panel leaders, or a higher figure, will be a major determinant in farm bill features.

The coming debt reduction process could take the form of a budget reconciliation.

Comments: Based on my sources, some progress was apparently being made via the behind-closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill, but they were disrupted in part by several farm group letters pushing their various positions. Ag panel leaders, and their staffs, should jump at the opportunity to open up the process, which would likely lead to a better bill than the ever-changing secretive plan thus far. That possibility may be at hand if the Super Committee "leaders" punt and give various panels and themselves more time to come up with solutions they couldn't reach in the months taken so far.


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






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