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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Just when you thought there was no collegiality in Congress...

David Rogers of THE POLITICO reports on promising reform measures being formulated by members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and their chairs, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), whose working relationship apparently has more than just survived the much-publicized Deficit Supercommittee's implosion.

It was always a shotgun marriage: the House and Senate agriculture committees would generate $23 billion in savings and get a ticket on the supercommittee’s fast-moving, amendment-free deficit train. But more than most of their colleagues, the agriculture leadership did at least try, and the weeks of backroom negotiations could prove valuable still as a first Washington exercise in the need for change in agriculture policy.

What emerged was a broad consensus that the current system of direct cash payments to producers — costing $5 billion a year — can no longer be defended. Government support for farmers should be a function of real planted acres, not outdated data measuring a producer’s “base” acreage from years ago. And payment limits of $105,000 are proposed for new safety net programs.

But instead of one overarching replacement for direct payments, the draft bill proposes at least three options, one tailored specifically for a single crop, cotton. Indeed, the old farm coalition may never be quite the same, as cotton’s decision to go it alone isolated rice and peanuts, making the South less of a player. Instead, the biggest tension matched the Corn Belt — flush with ethanol-driven prices — vs. the Great Plains wheat country represented by powerful Senate Democrats.

No plans have been announced to release the bill itself, but within the all-important commodity title, the latest scoring from the Congressional Budget Office is said to credit the committees with $16.7 billion in outlay savings — a 27 percent reduction.