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Ag leader letter to super committee delayed

House and Senate agriculture committee leaders are still finalizing the details of the letter on proposed farm bill budget cuts and a rewrite of farm programs that they were planning to send to the super committee on deficit reduction, a Senate Agriculture Committee aide told The Hagstrom Report late today.

“Staff are continuing to work together on the letter to the Joint Committee and are hoping to deliver their recommendation later this weekend or Monday,” the aide said.

A person involved in the negotiations said, ”Putting together both bipartisan and bicameral recommendations is a pretty extraordinary exercise given the current political and budget environment — which is why no other committees have achieved this.”

Earlier in the day, a knowledgeable Capitol Hill source said that the letter would urge the super committee not to cut agriculture more than $23 billion over 10 years. While it is unlikely that the letter would prescribe the breakdown of the cuts, the source said the Agriculture committees expect to provide specific policy recommendations on how to arrive at the $23 billion in cuts and new policies by Nov. 1.

There were no indications from the principals who would sign the letter — Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kans., House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. — that the task of reaching agreement was proving impossible.

But one lobbyist said tonight, “Wow, if they can't agree on sweet nothings, how does that bode for getting down to brass tacks?”

There have also been no indications of whether the process of writing a farm bill by Nov. 1 would involve hearings or markups, or whether the four principals would continue to keep the task to themselves.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is a member of the super committee and chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told The Hagstrom Report today that he is determined that the agriculture budget will pay no more than its fair share of the cuts.

“We, in this era of budget deficit reductions, are trying to figure out how to position the next farm bill [in a way] that makes sense for producers and the country,” Baucus said.

“Everyone in agriculture wants to pay [a] fair share,” Baucus added during a call to reporters arranged by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to celebrate the passage of the free-trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama. “We don’t want to get taken advantage of either. We are looking at ways to put the farm bill in. That is not the main charge of the committee.”

Baucus said he did not yet know the number that the agriculture committee leaders would recommend, and that he would not comment further on the process because the 12 members of the super committee have agreed that discussing the internal deliberations will hurt the trust that has been built up.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan also told The Hagstrom Report that USDA staff have been assisting members of Congress as they develop the bill.

“We have had people there in technical ways,” Merrigan said. “We are not completely wallpaper in this situation. We are engaged, but we understand this is Congress’s bill to write.”