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Debt delays

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 11/03/2011 @ 1:15pm Business Editor

Congressional ag committees could miss a chance to submit farm bill ideas to the Super Committee charged with drafting a deficit trimming plan by November 23, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said Thursday.

“I’m not certain they’ll have it by then,” the committee’s former chairman, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told agriculture.com

Harkin said he’s being told that an abbreviated version of a farm bill designed to trim $23 billion from the federal deficit over ten years will be available soon. But soon could mean before the end of this year or next spring, he said.

Part of the holdup is the commodity title of the farm bill.

“There’s a big disagreement over abolishing direct payments entirely or retaining them partially,” said Harkin. He favors ending direct payments. That, he said, would save about $33 billion over 10 years and some of the extra savings over the committees’ goal of $23 billion in cuts could be used to strengthen a revenue program similar to ACRE (the Average Crop Revenue Election program).


The four leaders of the ag committees, the chairs and ranking members, are working behind closed doors with their staffs to draft farm bill recommendations.

“I give credit to Senator Stabenow. She’s been advocating against cuts to conservation and nutrition,” Harkin said of the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

When asked whether he thinks conservation compliance will be reinstated for crop insurance in the next farm bill, Harkin said, “That’s going to be very hard to adopt for crop insurance. That’s why I keep saying conservation programs are critical to maintain.”

Not only are the ag committees working in private on farm bill proposals, the Super Committee (officially called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) has been even more secretive in working on its task of finding at least $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts over ten years.

There are reports this week that the 12-member committee may ask Congress to extend its November 23 deadline.

When asked if the committee is on schedule, Harkin told reporters, “I don’t know. They’ve been pretty closed mouthed about it.”

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