The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Conrad: Farm bill content now moving target

A day after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that the farm bill proposal being prepared for the super committee in charge of deficit reduction had some "kinks" in it, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said that the commodity title is now a "moving target" that the Senate Agriculture Committee staff is revising.

“I admire all the hard work that has gone into this, but there are some kinks that still need to be worked out," Baucus told reporters after a closed-door meeting of Senate Agriculture Committee Democratic members Monday evening to review the proposal. Baucus is considered the key to convincing the super committee to accept the proposal because he is the only person on the 12-member super committee to sit on an agriculture committee.

A Senate Democratic aide said the proposal favors the corn belt states where farmers are more concerned about price drops than they are about yield or quality losses.

"This proposal was dead on arrival tonight because it doesn’t treat all commodities fairly and is heavily biased towards corn producers — who are already seeing record prices," the aide said in an email to The Hagstrom Report. "Multiple members made clear this isn’t going anywhere until inequities in the safety-net programs are addressed. "

The aide added, "This boondoggle looks like it was drafted by the corn lobby, it’s a great sequel to that other giveaway to corn agribusiness — ethanol."

Another aide said the staff of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had not consulted enough with other members of the committee.

The first meeting of aides to all Democratic members of the committee was last Friday and the first members' meeting was Monday night, the aide noted.

The aide said there is concern that the proposal for a new farm program would make payments to farmers using a county trigger which would make payments to farmers who have not experienced losses, while other farmers who had losses might get no payment because their county did not have enough of losses to trigger payments.

The aide said that the proposal discussed Monday night also favored the eastern part of the country over the western states because counties in the west are larger and have a greater variety of agriculture. The aide said that writing the policy on a commodity-by-commodity basis is a problem, and suggested that a whole farm approach might be more acceptable to a wider range of senators.

Another Democratic aide also noted that some senators have fears that the way the program is written farmers could get payments on both crop insurance and the new program.

The Democratic aides' tough criticism raised questions about whether the agriculture committees can come up with a proposal before the super committee is to vote on its proposal on Nov. 23.

But Conrad seemed to tone down the aides' criticism today, saying that he was less concerned about the proposal after the meeting than before, because Jonathan Coppess, Stabenow's counsel, and other staffers agreed to address the issues raised.

"I'm still hopeful" that there will be a proposal that goes to the super committee," Conrad said.

He added that he agrees with Stabenow's view that it is important "to get the job done for the American economy." But he added that on each farm bill, "the devil is in the details,” and that it is important to "identify [problems] and work to get things fixed."

Conrad added that "it is very important" to finish the proposal by this weekend.

While he said the commodity title is the most difficult "at this juncture," he noted that dairy "is especially difficult" partly because of the issue of whether payment limits would be applied to the dairy program.

"We don't have anything in writing yet,” Conrad said. “It's concepts. There are going to be issues that need to be worked out.”

A spokeswoman for Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in an email that Roberts had not agreed to any proposal and would not sign off on a proposal until he sees one in writing.

The proposal under consideration would cut $23 billion from farm programs, with $13 billion coming from the commodity title, $6 billion from conservation and $4 billion from nutrition programs. Although reports have said that the cut to commodity programs would be $15 billion, $2 billion of that will be used for programs that do not have a baseline, Conrad confirmed today.