WASHINGTON, July 31—So how much are they going to cut out of agriculture as part of the latest debt deal? No one seems to know for sure, but the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Ranking Member have distinctly different views.


The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee took issue with his chairman’s assertion that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s proposal to end the debt ceiling impasse would have required farm spending cuts of only $11 billion over ten years.


Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., wondered how Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow could make such a statement knowing that Reid’s legislation also calls for the creation of a bipartisan commission to recommend additional reductions in federal spending later this year. The latest compromise framework would also create a new commission.


“I have received no assurances that agriculture would be spared from future cuts. Therefore, I think it is premature to say these are the only cuts that will occur from the Agriculture Committee baselines," Roberts said in a statement to Agri-Pulse before the Senate rejected Reid’s approach on Sunday.


The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) echoed Roberts’ view, acknowledging in a statement that while $11 billion is on the low end of rumored cuts to Ag programs, “there is no guarantee they would be the only money taken from the safety net.” NAWG added that cuts now would further erode the 2012 Farm Bill budget baseline.


An aide to Stabenow explained that the Ag Committee chairman felt it was important for farmers and ranchers to know she’d persuaded the Majority Leader to limit agriculture’s contribution to deficit reduction to $11 billion, far less than the $30 billion-plus cuts contained in the House 2012 Budget or suggested by the White House and senior lawmakers in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden.


The aide, who spoke to Agri-Pulse on background, insisted it was “real progress” that the marker for the Senate is $11 billion. 


Reid’s plan would have carried out $2.4 trillion in government-wide deficit reduction in years 2012-2021 while raising Washington’s borrowing authority by $2.2 trillion.


It specified savings in agriculture by reducing the percentage of base acres on which direct payments are made in the final year of the 2008 Farm Bill to 59 percent from the statutory rate of 85 percent.


Roberts complained that Reid “singled out” direct payments for cuts “without any input from the Agriculture Committee.


NAWG and other mainline agricultural groups strongly oppose cuts being made by Congressional leadership rather than the agriculture committees with program jurisdiction.


More details are expected to emerge after Senators meet Monday morning.




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