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Published March 19, 2012, 11:12 AM

Negotiations heat up

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said March 13 that the best way for the farm bill to pass this year might be to attach it to another bill that could use the budget authority from the proposed $23 billion cut over 10 years in farm spending.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said March 13 that the best way for the farm bill to pass this year might be to attach it to another bill that could use the budget authority from the proposed $23 billion cut over 10 years in farm spending.

“Someone might want to grab the $23 billion as a pay-for,” Roberts said in a speech to the American Soybean Association board meeting in Washington.

Senate Budget Committee aide Jim Miller told Agweek that using the farm bill budget authority for another program is a possibility to encourage action on the bill, but that it would cause other issues to be raised (see “Conrad’s farm bill concerns”).

Roberts did not go into any details about the use of the proposed savings for any purpose beside deficit reduction, but he did signal that farmers should do everything in their power to unify behind the bill and convince Congress to pass it this year.

“It’s going to take a very strong vote of the [Senate] Agriculture Committee to get this done,” Roberts said. “We have to prove to the leadership on both sides of the aisle we are ready to go to the Senate floor.”

But he added that moving to the floor “in some other way” than a free standing bill would be another option.

Roberts said he and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would do everything in their power to finish a committee markup in “early spring.” But he added that promising that schedule “is very easy to say, very tough to do.”

But he also said that it won’t be any easier to pass a bill in 2013, and that he wants to provide certainty to farmers rather than “another short-term fix.”

“We need to move,” Roberts said. He noted that the upcoming process will be “an open farm bill” compared to the secretive process that was used to develop the farm bill proposal that was sent to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction in December. He also noted that the open process “will bring scrutiny from all quarters,” and that the bill has to be defensible. He also told the soybean growers, “We want your participation.”

The supercommittee process failed, but there has been general agreement that the farm bill draft sent to that committee will be the basis of the farm bill this year.

Roberts said the bill is not finished, but that staffs are working “in a very cooperative way. We know what we face. We have to get a product. We can’t sit idly by.”

In the current process, he added, every member of the Senate Agriculture Committee “has input” into the bill.

Roberts also signaled that he still objects to the proposed higher target prices that are in the bill to more easily trigger subsidy payments. Some analysts have said that the higher target prices would encourage farmers to adjust their planting decisions to get payments. Roberts noted that when he was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee during the writing of the 1995 to 1996 farm bill, he tried to “make sure farmers are farming for the marketplace.”

The debt ceiling law that requires cuts in most federal programs next January exempts Social Security, Medicare and food stamps and added, “Something will have to be done about it,” Roberts said. He also spoke strongly in favor of crop insurance and said farmers face “a Katrina of regulations.”

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