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Farm Groups Still Unsure About Sequestration Proposal

Some ag groups not fully satisfied with Senate plan to avoid automatic cuts with funds from direct payments

Published on: Feb 21, 2013

The Senate Democrats' proposal late last week to use direct payment cuts previously outlined in the 2012 Farm Bill to avoid sequestration isn't a welcome plan, according to some farm groups.

A coalition of 11 groups on Tuesday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., outlining their opposition to the plan, which they say is "lopsided" due to spending cuts from only one section of the Farm Bill.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., spoke in detail about the plan last week in a press conference, noting that she was confident even without the spending cuts offered as part of a farm bill, a new five-year bill could be passed.  However, the coalition of farm groups doesn't agree.

Some ag groups not fully satisfied with Senate plan to avoid automatic cuts with funds from direct payments
Some ag groups not fully satisfied with Senate plan to avoid automatic cuts with funds from direct payments

"Your proposed legislation seriously undermines efforts to advance much needed reforms to meet the long term risk management needs of America's family farms," the groups wrote to Sen. Reid. "Conversely, inadequate funding to restructure the farm bill commodity title will almost certainly eliminate options to reform the farm safety net in a long term fiscally responsible manner."

Reid's proposal would slash defense spending and net farm bill spending each by $27.5 billion over the coming decade – the total elimination of direct commodity production subsidies yields $31 billion, but the bill also reinvests $3.5 billion to pay for a full farm bill extension, including programs left idle after the New Year's tax deal.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman, in AFBF press comments regarding Reid's proposal, said even though the proposal reinvests some of the proposed savings into needed disaster programs, a broader risk-management program is required.

"More than $27.5 billion in net spending reductions are earmarked for farm programs—with all the cuts coming from the elimination of direct payments with no provision to allow use of some of the savings for reinvestment in new safety-net or risk-management concepts," Stallman noted. "It appears the lion's share of budget reductions will come from cuts to agricultural programs that will create much harm in farm country."

Stallman said the bill is unfair in that only the Defense and Agriculture programs are tapped to reduce spending – an issue the coalition of groups highlighted as well.

"While we understand the goal of passing legislation to avoid budget sequestration, your proposal takes all of the budget savings from just one section of farm bill," the groups continued. "The fact that this proposal, if adopted, would simply delay sequestration until January 2014, in hopes that a larger long-term deficit reduction deal could be reached by Congress and the White House has us very concerned that agriculture is the only non-defense budget sector being cut while other sectors are not touched."

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives weighed in too, again pointing out cuts from only one area, and the lack of cuts from SNAP.

"Less than a year ago, the Senate found savings of $4.5 billion from SNAP when they overwhelmingly passed a new five-year farm bill; I think that farmers have the right to ask their Senators why these cuts have gone from acceptable to unacceptable in less than 10 months," said Chuck Connor, president of NCFC.

The proposal was first announced Feb. 14, with Sen. Stabenow expecting a vote after this week's recess but before March 1, when the sequestration cuts are scheduled to take effect. Stabenow could not say if the plan has support from Senate Republicans, but House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., was relatively unaccepting of the plan, calling it "an attack on rural America."