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Cuts target farm programs, insurance

DANIEL LOOKER 03/11/2013 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

Once again, farm programs are on the chopping block in Washington.

Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a budget that would trim $4.6 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, by cutting spending on Medicare, repealing part of Obamacare and giving more authority to states to run nutrition programs. But it also targets farm programs.

"Taxpayers should not finance payments for a business sector that is more than capable of thriving on its own," says the Budget Committee's "The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible, Balanced Budget."

"This budget calls on the House Agriculture Committee to revisit current farm-support programs, such as the fixed payments that go to farmers irrespective of price levels and the current structure of the crop-insurance programs," says the proposal from the committee headed by the Republican party's 2012 vice presidential candidate. "Recognizing that the Agriculture Committee is responsible for implementing these reductions, and to maintain flexibility for the Committee, this proposal does not dictate the specific changes to the programs in under the Committee’s jurisdiction. These reforms will save taxpayers $31 billion over the next decade."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) praised Lucas for producing a budget and promised that his committee will do its part to find savings.

"Last year, we developed a reform-minded, fiscally responsible farm bill that contributed to deficit reduction and we will continue on that same course this year.  We will consider the suggestions contained in Chairman Ryan’s budget, as is customary for the Agriculture Committee to consider a variety of viewpoints when crafting comprehensive legislation," Lucas said in a statement.

But the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, called the budget "political messaging."

“The House Agriculture Committee has repeatedly shown that it is possible to work together to find budget savings in a bipartisan fashion by making balanced cuts across farm bill programs. It wasn’t an easy process but we did it because that’s our job. If the House Republicans do take the Ryan budget numbers seriously, I don’t see how they can be serious about passing long-term farm policy this year. If these are the budget priorities for the House Majority, agriculture might best be served by again extending the current farm bill.”

But behind the public pronouncements, some members of congressional agriculture committees seem to be preparing to write farm bills that will spend less than they would have a year ago.

Early on Tuesday, Senate Agriculture Committee member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Agriculture.com that there might not be new commodity programs in the next farm bill.

"I think that we're going to end up with probably just one safety net for farmers in the new farm bill, and that's going to be crop insurance," Grassley said.

Grassley said he supports the programs passed in last year's version of a farm bill in the Senate -- Agriculture Risk Coverage and the Supplemental Coverage Option -- programs intended to cover shallow losses not protected by crop insurance. But if they "might undo crop insurance,” he has questions about them, he said.

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