Anticipation mounts for farm bill action
The 2012 Farm Bill should see some prime time action in the coming weeks.
The next step is almost certainly Senate consideration of a bill approved by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, the Western Farm Press reported. (Check out a summary of the Senate bill here: http://www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill.)
More than 125 stakeholder organizations, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, this week wrote a letter urging Senate leaders to bring the bill to the floor as quickly as possible. A bipartisan contingent of U.S. Senators also called on Senate leadership to move forward with the debate.
In the U.S. House, meanwhile, Agriculture subcommittees are holding a series of hearings on key farm policy issues ahead of a mark-up. (More info: http://agriculture.house.gov.)
The Western Farm Press summarized the differences:
Both House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have expressed concerns with the Senate bill’s revenue protection program, saying it would not protect producers as well in times of low prices.
The House bill is expected to be different than the Senate bill for this and other reasons and is likely to include a price protection mechanism, perhaps in addition to a revenue protection mechanism.
Another major difference between the House and Senate bills will likely be the cuts to nutrition programs, which account for about 80 percent of farm bill spending.
Senate cuts to the programs, led by SNAP at nearly $80 billion per year, totaled just $4 billon over 10 years. By comparison, the House Agriculture Committee recently approved $33 billion in cuts to nutrition programs over a 10-year period to fulfill budget reconciliation instructions. While that vote was largely political, it does indicate sentiment among some on the panel, which could impact farm bill language coming out of that chamber.
Kim Geiger, a reporter for the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, tried to clarify the debate over crop insurance in a story this week:
The farm bill now before Congress includes a provision — estimated to cost about $3 billion a year — that would help cover the losses farmers suffer before their crop insurance policies kick in. Those losses, termed deductibles, can run in the tens of thousands of dollars for a typical mid-size farm.
Supporters say it’s a money saver because it would replace an existing subsidy costing $5 billion a year. That subsidy, known as direct payments, pays farmland owners a set amount regardless of whether they’ve planted crops on the land. Pressure has been mounting for years to end direct payments, long viewed as a symbol of the largess that flows from Washington to the nation’s farmers.
Critics of the proposal concede it may be less costly than the direct-payment subsidies but say it would still take away U.S. Agriculture Department funds from more important programs such as food stamps, which fed 1 in 7 U.S. residents in an average month last year.
...The proposed $3 billion subsidy for deductibles would come in addition to an existing federal program to subsidize the premiums themselves. It was included in the farm bill that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee last month by a bipartisan 16-5 vote. The existing premium subsidy program, which would be retained by that bill, costs about $10 billion a year, according to the White House budget office.
The proposed program would supplement farmers’ already subsidized crop insurance policies. The government would pay farmers if revenue dips below historical averages.
Farmers say the program would protect them from suffering years of smaller losses that don’t trigger an insurance payout.
“This just provides some small cushion for the shocks,” said Jon Doggett, vice president for public policy at the National Corn Growers Association. “This is an idea that was developed in the hopes that it would never need to be used.”
But critics say the proposed program is simply a subsidy swap with the potential to leave taxpayers on the hook for even more.