Farm bill roll out delayed

WASHINGTON – The leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, including DFL Rep. Collin Peterson, have missed a self-imposed deadline of Nov. 1 to present their bipartisan plan for reducing agriculture spending by $23 billion over the next decade.

A spokeswoman for the Republican staff of the House Agriculture Committee told MPR News that as of Tuesday afternoon, the majority and minority leaders of both committees have not yet reached a final agreement. She did not know if an agreement was imminent.

Last month, the leadership of the agriculture committees in both chambers had taken it on themselves to offer the cuts to programs under their jurisdiction as a means of heading off potentially deeper reductions from the special Congressional deficit reduction committee tasked with making at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving.

In a brief conversation with MPR News last week, Peterson confirmed that he was working on what would amount to a re-authorization of the five year farm bill along with Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), that committee’s ranking member.

The group is hoping that the deficit super committee will adopt their recommendations and offer their hastily-written farm bill as a component of the overall deficit reduction plan that Congress must vote on before Christmas. Under the super committee’s special rules, the panel’s proposals cannot be amended and can pass with a simple majority, unlike many bills in the Senate, which now require 60 votes to proceed.

Passing a farm bill through the super committee framework thus offers an expedited track with minimal debate, something that surely must appeal to the heads of both agriculture committees as liberals and conservatives have complained about farm spending in recent years.

Published reports indicate that the quartet plans to eliminate direct payments to farmers but will create a new “shallow loss” subsidy program that would make up a portion of a farmer’s income if crop prices fall. The group may also make changes to the crop insurance program, which has become increasingly important to farmers.

One Washington-based farm lobbyist contacted by MPR News suggested that the lack of an announcement, or even background details from committee staff, suggested that there was likely a major disagreement among the four lawmakers that was blocking the way forward.

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