WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 – The House and Senate Agriculture Committees spent the weekend working on the remaining details of their deficit reduction recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The staff of both ag panels were drafting a joint letter to the Select Committee and hope to deliver it on Monday, an aide to Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow said in an email to Agri-Pulse. It is not known what issues are holding up the letter, which was supposed to have been sent on Friday. 

Sources familiar with the negotiations between the top four ag leaders on Capitol Hill – Stabenow, D-Mich., and Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas in the Senate and Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota in the House – said they agreed to recommend to the Select Committee that farm bill spending be reduced by no more than a net amount of $23 billion over the next decade. 

The USA Rice Federation told its members that $15 billion of the savings would come from commodity programs, $7 billion from conservation and $5 billion from nutrition assistance. Four billion would be added back to pay for other programs, USA Rice said.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the only representative of either chamber’s ag panel on the 12-member bipartisan, bicameral committee tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in government-wide savings over 10 years, declined to comment on whether $23 billion in farm bill cuts was enough.

“As a member of the [Select] Committee, I’m just making sure we get our debt down as much as possible…and I know that agriculture is part of the solution,” Baucus said Friday on a conference call hosted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to discuss congressional passage of bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. 

“But I want to make sure that agriculture is not discriminated against and that agriculture does not shoulder an unfair burden. That’s where we are right now,” he added.         

Our sources say that Ag Committee leaders will spend the rest of this month writing a 2012 Farm Bill that reflects the proposed savings. The farm safety net will likely be restructured to offer a revenue guarantee for each participating farmer calculated, in part, off a rolling five-year average. 

The revenue-based approach would initially give farmers a “much more lucrative deal” than they’re getting now with direct and countercyclical payments, complained David DeGennaro of the Environmental Working Group, a leading farm subsidy critic. 

Beyond the expected safety net changes, little else about the planned rewrite of farm policy, including whether there will be a public mark-up, is known – even to rank-and-file members of the House and Senate Ag Committees. On Friday, some GOP House members grumbled that they had not yet been fully briefed on proposed changes.

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