by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
WASHINGTON (DTN) — Despite budget complications in the House, more positive movement is starting to happen that could get a farm bill out of the Senate before the end of May.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told DTN on Wednesday that conversations he had late last week with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow indicate the Senate could have a floor debate on a farm bill in May.
“Apparently (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid has given her a week of floor of time in May, I guess,” Peterson said. “So they are shooting to try to get out of here by Memorial Day, through the floor.”
DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported in the Hagstrom Report that Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, held a meeting Wednesday to lay out plans to hold a mark-up on a farm bill in committee by the end of April.
The Senate could move a bill operating under the premise of $23 billion in budget cuts over 10 years while the House may face having to cut $33 billion because of the budget-reconciliation process being pushed by House leaders.
A possible target-price program in the commodity title right now is a sticking point. Some major commodity groups have resisted increases in target prices, but some crops don’t work well with crop insurance and groups representing them want a target-price program. That would include crops such as rice and peanuts.
“They don’t have a crop insurance system so the revenue program doesn’t do any good,” Peterson said. “The only way they can replace direct payments with their banker is by having an enhanced target price. They think that will work as collateral with the bank. So what this is really about is the bankers more than the farmers.”
Peterson said he supports target prices and thinks there will be a target-price proposal in the House bill as well.
Farm and commodity groups disagree about a target-price program, and possibly where the band of coverage falls in a shallow-loss program. However, almost all groups are in agreement about the need to get a farm bill done this year. Representatives from several farm groups who spoke with DTN this week said they expect that once the Senate gets a bill out of committee people will coalesce around it to help push the legislation through.
For now, however, the farm-bill process in the House is complicated by the budget reconciliation the process, Peterson said. The House Agriculture Committee will have to explain by April 27 how it will meet its reconciliation target.
“It’s just how we can minimize the damage,” Peterson said. “The question is do we even want to work on this on the Democratic side because it’s not a real deal. We’re not going to vote for the budget anyway. So how do we keep the reconciliation process from poisoning the well in terms of doing the farm bill?”
The House Agriculture Committee will have to cut $33.1 billion over 10 years under the House reconciliation process. The problem, Peterson said, is the Agriculture Committee will have to show $8.2 billion in cuts in the first year and $19.7 billion over five years.
The House is voting on a full federal budget bill on Thursday that would cut as much as $180 billion out of USDA programs over 10 years. However, the Senate leadership maintains they plan to stick with the budget plan agreed upon last summer and won’t take up the House bill. Thus, on the $180 billion in USDA cuts “It’s all for show. There’s no requirement that we have to do that,” Peterson said.
In the failed supercommittee process, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees had proposed cutting $850 million in the first year. So the jump to $8.2 billion on the House side would put far more pressure on some programs.
“I don’t see any way to do this without taking it out of food stamps,” Peterson said. “That’s the only way there would be enough money to do this.”
Republicans have already proposed in the budget bill to cut $122 billion out of nutrition programs, even though those numbers won’t hold up. Peterson said his staff understands there are savings that can be found in food stamps, more than the $4 billion in proposed cuts the agriculture committees had considered last fall.
The big problem for the House Agriculture Committee is if lawmakers come up with $33 billion in cuts at the end of April, will there be a push to cut even more?
“Are they going to say ‘Well, we want this $33 billion and we want $23 billion more.’?” Peterson said. “We don’t know at this point.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas was quoted from an AgriTalk interview on Wednesday saying there is a strong chance Congress will have to extend the 2008 farm bill because the new legislation won’t be completed by Sept. 30. Lucas said on AgriTalk he expects the final farm-bill cuts to fall somewhere in the $30 billion range.
Peterson said he doesn’t see the Republican Study Group allowing an extension without budget cuts.
Despite criticism last week from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, about Peterson’s dairy reform program, Peterson said the Senate is going along with his program and he thinks it will also be in the House version as well.
“There’s nothing else going on in dairy than what we are doing,” he said.
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Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp