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Published August 08, 2011, 05:11 AM

How will debt bill affect farm programs?

STOWE, Vt. — In an Aug. 3 videoconference discussion of the impact of the new debt ceiling and deficit reduction law House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn, said:

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

STOWE, Vt. — In an Aug. 3 videoconference discussion of the impact of the new debt ceiling and deficit reduction law House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn, said:

- The supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP (formerly called food stamps), the Conservation Reserve Program that idles land and an Environmental Protection Agency program addressing hazardous waste in grains bins would be exempt from sequestration if an across-the-board federal budget cut would go into effect in 2012.

- The special nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC would not be exempt from a sequestration cut.

- The sequestration percentage cut to all programs probably would be 4 to 5 percent, a number that would come from adding up federal spending over 10 years and dividing that number by the $1.2 trillion cut called for in the bill.

- The cut for agriculture programs probably would be $5 billion or $6 billion over 10 years, which would be less than the $11 billion most often mentioned as the cut that would be expected from agriculture as part of a budget-cutting exercise.

Making cuts

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress is supposed to cut $900 billion over 10 years in an immediate process and another $1.2 trillion by December through the work of a special joint congressional supercommittee composed of six Democrats and six Republicans, who will recommend the changes by Nov. 23. If that process does not result in a proposal that passes Congress and is signed by President Obama by Jan. 15, then automatic triggers will go into effect to cut both domestic and defense spending.

Peterson, speaking to the American Sugar Alliance meeting in Stowe, Vt., said he has doubts that the supercommittee process will work because members will have a hard time overcoming partisanship to make compromises. He that he would be “very surprised in the House if there will be anyone with a understanding of agriculture” appointed to the supercommittee.

Peterson added, “The Senate is best chance to make sure we are treated fairly.”

Under the process outlined in the bill, legislative authorizing committees including agriculture are supposed to make recommendations to the supercommittee by Oct. 14. Peterson said he has told House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., that he will work with him on the recommendations that the agriculture committee is supposed to make, unless the Republicans “go off on an ideological deal like ‘Freedom to Farm.’”

But Peterson added, “It’s not clear how this is going to work.”

He does not think the agriculture committee would “volunteer” to make cuts in farm programs, but said it also is unclear whether the joint committee will tell the committees how much to cut and, if the joint committee does issue instructions, whether its members “will take input” from the agriculture committee.

Peterson said it may be better for agriculture if the super committee fails and sequestration goes into effect, because the cut might be less than if Congress succeeds in figuring out how to cut each program.

Both the agriculture committee and the overall House have changed so much since the 2010 election brought the tea party members to Washington, Peterson said, that it is hard to tell how the writing of the farm bill will go.

Peterson said he is unclear whether the traditional farm bill coalition of farmers, conservationists and antihunger advocates will succeed in getting a bill written and passed as they have for decades. The new Southerners on the agriculture committee are not like the Southerners he is used to working with, he said.

Peterson concluded that he thinks he still can work with Lucas, even though the two of them have had differences over how the Dodd-Frank financial services bill affects the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Peterson said he has met frequently with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and that he and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., “will figure out how to work together.”

Of Roberts, he said, “there have been differences in the past, but we’re good friends.”

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