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Ag committees pick number for budget cuts

Both the Senate and House agriculture committees announced Monday that they’re recommending a $23 billion reduction in farm bill spending over the next 10 years to the congressional “super committee” charged with finding more than $1 trillion in lowered federal spending.
“We are currently finalizing the policies that would achieve $23 billion in deficit reduction and will provide a complete legislative package by November 1, 2011,” the committee chairs and ranking minority party members said in a letter to the committee. “Deficit savings at this level is more than any sequestration process would achieve and should absolve the programs in our jurisdiction from any further reductions. We welcome the opportunity to explain this recommendation and the forthcoming legislative proposal upon request from the Joint Committee.”
The letter is signed by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, as well as Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and the ranking Republican, Pat Roberts of Kansas.
The ag committee leaders point out that USDA spending covers much more than commodity programs for farmers and that those farm programs have already been cut:
“Commodity program spending represents less than one quarter of one percent of the Federal Budget, and actual Commodity Title spending has been almost $25 billion below Congressional Budget Office projections at the time the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills were passed.  Crop insurance underwent $6 billion in reductions through the most recent renegotiation of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement, $6 billion in cuts in the last Farm Bill and $2 billion in the 2002 Farm Bill. This totals $14 billion since the passage of the Agriculture Risk Protection Act in 2000. Conservation has been cut by over $3 billion during the last five years.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was cut by nearly $12 billion in the last Congress to offset other spending.  In addition, there are also 37 programs, totaling nearly $10 billion, which expire and have no baseline into future years.
National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer released the following statement in response to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees’ proposed reductions in farm bill spending:
“NCGA appreciates the bipartisan work of the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Ag Committees to reach an agreement on farm bill spending reductions.  Our farmers have previously stated we are willing to do our part to help reduce the deficit.
“The highest priority for NCGA is securing a strong crop insurance program. In addition, we support revenue-based risk management programs that address gaps not covered by crop insurance.  This type of program would deliver assistance only when it is needed. Everyone must play a part to help with our nation’s financial situation. America’s corn farmers are pleased to see that the House and Senate Ag Committee leaders are taking responsible steps to meet that challenge.”
Although the ag committees agree on a budget reducing number, behind the scenes there may still be plenty of regional and partisan disagreement.
One congressional staffer tells Republicans on the ag committees are trying to save at least some spending on direct payments, as are Senate Democrats Kent Conrad (ND) and Max Baucus (MT).
And some Republicans in the House have been fighting for bigger cuts overall, up to $50 billion as well as cuts to nutrition programs supported by many Democrats.
“What’s not so much mentioned (except by the administration) in this exercise is crop insurance, which is expected to cost about $8 billion a year on into the future.  The more the Republicans push for very large cuts out of the agriculture committee programs, the greater the pressure to draw in crop insurance spending and start cutting it seriously,” the staffer says.

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