Cochran, farm groups criticize Democratic sequester plan

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2013 - Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and two farm organizations today criticized a proposed Democratic Senate bill to avoid sequestration largely through the elimination of direct farm payments.

The proposal recommends $27.5 billion in cuts from the agriculture sector and $27.5 billion in defense savings.

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“I'm disappointed that the Senate Democratic sequester package falls squarely on the backs of our defense and agriculture sectors,” Cochran said. “I understand that this is a political messaging bill, and I think it's unfair and unfortunate that the entire federal government looks to agriculture and national defense to pay for its debt.  I look forward to working collaboratively with members of both parties to address the challenges facing the nation.”

The sequestration, which means across-the-board cuts for all federal departments, is scheduled to take effect March 1. The Senate is expected to debate the Democratic proposal, as well as a Republican proposal that does not include farm payment cuts, during the week of Feb. 25.

Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is a strong supporter of the Democratic bill, and noted that the Senate accepted the elimination of farm payments last year when it approved a five-year farm bill.

In addition to the $27.5 billion in deficit reduction, eliminating the payments would provide an additional $3.5 billion to extend disaster assistance, renewable energy, rural development, conservation, hunger prevention, agriculture research, organic certification, and specialty crop programs.

Neither the Democratic nor the Republican plan is expected to be approved in the Senate.

One of the farm groups in opposition of the Democratic bill, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), said the legislation would cut $31 billion from the farm bill, all of which would come from the commodity title.

“No producer, no co-op across the country doubts the need for our federal government to get its spending more in line with revenue-agriculture has always stood ready to contribute its fair share to deficit reduction,” said Chuck Conner, NCFC president and chief executive officer. “Unfortunately, the Senate proposal fails to treat farmers equitably. The only parts of the budget taking cuts under this proposal are defense and agriculture. It should also be noted that this cut would be three times what agriculture would contribute to deficit reduction if the sequestration process is allowed to move forward on its own.”

Conner said the bill targets only “a tiny sliver” of farm bill spending, leaving nutrition programs fully intact.

“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,” Conner said.

Echoing the opposition, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the bill raises “strong concerns.”

“The magnitude of these proposed cuts will hamstring the House and Senate Agriculture committees from crafting a farm bill that includes the safety-net and risk-management provisions that our farmers need,” Stallman said. “While last year's farm bill was leading us toward a path without direct payments, at least that path did include significant reinvestment of some of that funding to other farm programs and crop insurance tools.”


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