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Supercommittee upends farm bill

Jeff Caldwell 11/22/2011 @ 9:20am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

After the "Supercommittee" on Capitol Hill failed this week to reach a deal to trim the federal deficit, lawmakers are now taking stock of how federal programs will now end up. That includes Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the farm bill.

The Supercommittee -- created last summer in Congress as an effort to take specific measures to trim the nation's deficit -- could have "put us on a path to good fiscal discipline and show Washington is serious about getting our fiscal house in order," Grassley said Tuesday morning. But now, without a deal, there will be a lot of changes to federal appropriations moving forward, including the farm bill.

The budgetary restraints for the new farm bill, Grassley said Tuesday, will now be reached through the process of "sequestration," one in which the amount of money equal to the difference between the previous cap set in budget resolution and the amount actually appropriated is held aside. In other words, it means the farm program, with the exception of food stamps and prior obligations under the Federal Crop Insurance Fund, will get the same haircut as other federal appropriations.

"They are automatic cuts. Nobody knows definitively the effects of sequestration of the farm program. Food stamps and crop insurance are exempt," Grassley said Tuesday morning. "Most programs will be subject to across-the-board cuts."

Now, at least a version of the draft bill assembled by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK), their respective chambers' agriculture committee chair, will likely move forward, Grassley said, adding the proposal already includes cuts to the appropriate programs "because we know more about ag cuts than the supercommittee." But, there will be a "lot of other people in the room who will bring other ideas to the forefront," Grassley spokesperson Beth Pellett Levine says.

One consequence of the supercommittee's failure is farm payment limits -- something Grassley's worked to implement in the farm program for years -- may have a better chance of adoption now that cuts are inevitable despite the fact they were not in the original draft bill.

"In the open process, I think we have a chance of getting something good put in," Grassley said of payment limits, adding other funding priorities will likely be the revenue program, crop insurance and ag export support.

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