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Conrad: Gang of Six plan would delay ag cuts until 2012 farm bill

By JERRY HAGSTROM

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said today that the Gang of Six senators’ budget plan would allow farm program cuts to begin in the 2012 farm bill rather than earlier.

In an interview with FarmPolicy.com, Conrad noted that the $11 billion cut to farm programs over 10 years in the Gang of Six plan is “about one-quarter of what the House proposal includes in terms of their cuts to farm programs, to conservation, and to crop insurance.”

“The House proposal would really cripple agriculture ,” he added. “I think there’s no more direct way to say it.”

The views of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., that farm program cuts should begin after the 2012 crop year are an entirely reasonable approach, Conrad said. “In effect, farmers were promised, back in 2008, a certain level of support, and to pull the rug out from under them prematurely I think would be especially unfair. So yes, our plan would permit that.”

Under the Gang of Six plan, he said, committees would get an assignment of what their savings would be over 10 years and given six months to report how they would achieve the assigned savings.

But Conrad also said he would still expect a separate farm bill to be written.

“I think it would be unlikely that the whole farm bill would be put into the deficit reduction bill. I think the savings aspects of it would be what would be included in the deficit reduction bill. But it would be entirely appropriate and acceptable for the farm bill to run on a parallel track. In other words, you could have the farm bill implementing policy that also achieved the savings passed separately with the provisions that save the money as part of the deficit reduction package.”

Conrad said the Gang of Six has draft legislative language of the bill, but that it has not been finalized. The Congressional Budget Office has scored sections of it, but not the overall bill, he added.

The bill would save $3.7 trillion over 10 years and bring down the deficit from 9.3 percent of the gross domestic product to 1.9 percent, he said.

The senators in the Gang of Six developed their proposal to cut the budget through spending cuts and revenue raisers earlier this year, but the group fell apart when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., dropped out. The proposal enjoyed a revival this week when Coburn rejoined the group and President Barack Obama praised the effort.

Besides Conrad and Coburn, the members of the group are Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

Members of the Gang of Six met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to discuss how to advance their proposal, the National Journal reported.

But the proposal’s revenue raisers have also generated opposition among some Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner said he and the White House are “not close to an agreement” on raising the U.S. debt ceiling, Bloomberg reported.