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Ag leaders' deficit reduction proposal coming Friday

The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees are scheduled to send the super committee in charge of deficit reduction a letter Friday, telling them they will support a reduction of $23 billion in farm bill spending over 10 years in exchange for changing farm programs within the bill that the committee is supposed to produce, a key Senate source told The Hagstrom Report.

Another Senate source said that while the letter is scheduled to be sent, the four leaders — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kans., House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.— had not yet agreed to a final number.

Roberts confirmed the $23 billion cut, the Associated Press reported today.

The super committee is supposed to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. According to the debt ceiling bill that set up the super committee, authorizing committees such as Agriculture are supposed to send any guidance to the super committee by Friday. The super committee is supposed to develop and vote on its bill by Nov. 23 and both houses of Congress are supposed to vote on it by Dec. 23.

The four agricultural leaders have not discussed publicly what programs would be rewritten, but indications are that the bill would eliminate or drastically cut back the direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low, rewrite the other crop subsidy programs and include the sugar and dairy titles. It’s also likely the bill would cover conservation and nutrition programs.

In recent days, a number of groups have issued statements on various aspects of the next farm bill:

NUTRITION: The four leaders are considering cutting nutrition programs like food stamps by about $4 billion, a fraction of its $700 billion cost over 10 years, the AP reported today.

Lucas and Roberts have said they believe that cuts involving waste, fraud and efficiencies could be made in the administration of the nutrition programs, which make up about 75 percent of the USDA budget, without cutting benefits. The American Farm Bureau Federation has also said it believes the nutrition programs should bear a small amount of the cut.

A group of 127 Democratic House members today sent a letter to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the super committee, urging that the committee “reject policy choices that would risk increasing hunger or poverty in America,” including any reduction in the supplemental nutrition assistance program known as SNAP and formerly known as food stamps.

In the letter, the House Democrats, led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., also urged the super committee to raise revenue. The group noted that low-income entitlement programs, including the nutrition programs, would be exempt from cuts if the super committee fails to come up with a plan that Congress passes, in which case automatically triggered cuts would go into effect.

HEALTHY EATING: Wholesome Wave, a Connecticut-based group that provides coupons so beneficiaries of federal nutrition programs can buy more fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, said the next farm bill should include provisions to encourage that effort.

Gus Schumacher, an Agriculture undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services in the Clinton administration and now a vice president of Wholesome Wave, made the statement during a news conference Tuesday, during which the group announced it has received a $1.2 million grant from Kaiser Permanente to broaden its reach because Kaiser believes that eating fruits and vegetables can prevent illness and obesity and reduce healthcare costs. Wholesome Wave President Michel Nishan said the group has programs in 25 states and will soon be in 30.

CONSERVATION: Forty-eight groups with conservation interests sent a letter to the Agriculture committee leaders and the super committee on Wednesday, urging that they recognize the cuts already made to farm conservation programs and not make more reductions.

Signers of that letter included the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the Agricultural Retailers Association, Ducks Unlimited, National Farmers Union, Environmental Defense Fund, National Association of Conservation Districts, and National Association of State Foresters.

Another letter signed by 45 organizations concerned about saving grasslands and protecting wildlife habitat. This letter was signed by NSAC, the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and others.

DAIRY: Any farm bill developed through the super committee is likely to contain a new dairy title because dairy farmers have suffered more problems than any other segment of agriculture in recent years and because Peterson has proposed repealing some current dairy programs and passing a new program that the National Milk Producers Federation supports.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., introduced a bill that would repeal the dairy product price support program, but give producers a choice in risk management tools by allowing them to continue to participate in the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program or to receive support for Livestock Gross Margin-Dairy (LGM-Dairy) program by insuring their revenue margins for future months.

The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents dairy processors and objects to the Peterson bill, praised Casey for including more risk-management tools and said it would work with him on the elements of his bill it finds objectionable.

REGULATION: More than 75 agriculture groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and many agribusinesses sent the four leaders a letter last week asking them to include in their recommendations to the super committee “a two-year moratorium on all discretionary, non-essential regulatory actions that would increase the cost of food and agricultural production and processing.”


NOTE: The originally published version of this story misstated the two conservation-interest groups who sent letters to the Agriculture committee leaders and the super committee. That error has been corrected in this version.