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Miller: CBO numbers unlikely to change minds on farm bill

Jim Miller
Jim Miller
The Congressional Budget Office baseline for farm and nutrition programs for the next 10 years released today is unlikely to change lawmakers’ views that the appropriate cut in farm programs for deficit reduction is $23 billion, a former Agriculture undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services and key Senate aide told The Hagstrom Report today.

“I don’t see any urgency that would necessarily change their minds,” Jim Miller, now an aide to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said after a speech to the American Soybean Association board.

The CBO has released the following cost estimates on key farm bill categories over 10 years, Miller said:
  • Crop insurance: $91 billion
  • Conservation: 64 billion
  • Commodities: 63 billion
  • Nutrition: 772 billion
Compared with the March 2011 baseline, Miller said, crop insurance is up $11 billion, nutrition is up $70 billion, conservation programs are up slightly and commodity programs are down slightly. He said that the increase in estimated crop insurance costs is due both to the value of crops and timing shifts stemming from decisions made in the 2008 farm bill.

Miller also said Conrad’s concerns over issues such as duplication of payments, which farm leaders fear would lead to more criticism of the program, or how various farm proposals would affect the Northern Plains have not been resolved at the staff level.

Miller said he and Conrad are particularly concerned about proposals to aggregate payment areas rather than to make payments based on individual farms because there are “localized production risks” on the Plains. But he added that there has not been an attempt to resolve those issues.

Reacting to Roberts’ statement that a farm bill might be attached to another bill with the $23 billion in savings used as an offset for another program, Miller said that idea had arisen before, but that if the agriculture savings are used to pay for another program, agriculture might still be asked to contribute to deficit reduction.

He also noted that using the $23 billion for another program might also mean that agriculture would not be protected against cuts under sequestration.

Miller said he hopes that Roberts “has some tricks up his sleeve” that no one else has thought of if he proposes using the agriculture savings to fund other programs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has told the agriculture committee leaders that he will consider bringing the bill to the Senate floor once the committee has passed a bill.