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Ag committees will meet deadline -- Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) a veteran member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Tuesday that he believes the leaders of congressional ag committees will finish drafting partial farm bill recommendations by November 1.

“We’ll meet the deadline, but it’s going to be a big lift,” he said.

The House and Senate agriculture committees have told the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that they plan to explain by next week how the 12-member committee can save $23 billion over 10 years.

Grassley said that he expects the ag committees to focus on the farm bill’s commodity title, which includes programs like direct payments and ACRE (average crop revenue election), plus nutrition programs, the lion’s share of USDA’s budget, and possibly conservation programs if there is a separate conservation title.  The committee will wait to decide how to deal with other smaller programs that expire when the 2008 Farm Bill runs out next year, he said.

He doesn’t think there will be time for the ag committees to meet, but each member will have a chance to read the final product, he said.

“The contact is probably at the staff level, almost hourly, for members this week,” he said.

Grassley said the committee feels a sense of urgency about getting farm bill recommendations to the 12-member deficit-cutting “Super Committee “because we feel that only one person on the committee knows anything about agriculture.”

Later, he said that person is Senator Max Baucus, an ag committee member who is also chairman of the Finance Committee. Grassley added that he was speaking about the six members of the Super Committee from the Senate, not about those from the House. The co-chair of the Super Committee, Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) grew up on a farm near College Station, Texas.

Grassley said there is also concern that Congress might make deeper cuts in agricultural spending, or that there might no even be a Farm Bill enacted if the ag committees don’t work with the Super Committee.

In an opening statement to reporters at his weekly press conference with the agricultural media, Grassley said that his two top priorities for the farm bill are a meaningful safety net and payment limits.

During the press conference, he told that the odds of getting tough payment limits included in the next farm bill aren’t strengthened by the concern about federal spending in Congress.

“The principal of payment limits has broad-based support but it doesn’t have the support of agriculture and the bill is going to be written by aggies,” said Grassley, who is one of only a few farmers or farm owners in the Senate.

On Monday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack laid out the Obama Administration’s goals for the farm bill, which include a safety net for all segments of agriculture, sustainable productivity, and vibrant markets.

When asked how much influence the Administration might have on the farm bill due next week, Grassley said, “I don’t think the Administration is going to have much time to have much of an impact.”

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