The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been searching high and low for the funding necessary to meet priority needs under the next farm bill.  

One idea included in the farm bill proposal of House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson is to limit the Secretary’s otherwise broad discretion to tap the $30 billion in the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) line of credit.  

But this week, it was reported that the Congressional Budget Office would only assign $8 billion in budget savings over 10 years, which the Agriculture Committees could then redirect toward the many needs identified in this farm bill process.

To anyone who has been involved in farm bill scoring, CBO’s math doesn’t add up.  

As Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) noted in their April 6 letter of last year to their Budget Committee counterparts:

“As the Committee on the Budget considers recommended spending authority in the budget resolution, we would ask you to recognize that since 2018, the Federal Government has approved more than $90 billion in ad hoc assistance for farmers and ranchers in response to Chinese tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports, the pandemic, and increasingly unpredictable climate-related disasters.  A commitment to additional financial resources for the farm bill will help to transition our farm and food supplies away from ad hoc support.”

Of the $90 billion in ad hoc relief provided over the six-year period in question, more than $64 billion is owing to the secretary using his broad Section 5 authorities under the CCC.  

That’s $10.7 billion per year in CCC spending under current legal authority that Chairman Thompson proposes to limit in favor of Congress, using these funds to provide more certain, stable support under the farm bill.

Taking into account the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Chinese tariffs and the pandemic, by limiting CCC spending going forward under the still very difficult conditions of declining crop prices and shrinking farm incomes, the budget savings should, at the very least, yield $5.3 billion per year – an amount that is less than half of actual CCC spending over the past six years.  

If anything, these estimated savings are on the very conservative side, except for CBO, which continues to insist that such a limit would yield a mere $800 million per year or about 6% of actual recent CCC spending. Even by CBO standards, this estimate stretches credulity.

The Budget Committees will have the opportunity to decide what is a fair and reasonable appraisal of Chairman Thompson’s proposal. If the Committees opt to take it, it could very well crack the code for both the House and Senate and pave the way for achieving the strong, bipartisan farm bill that nearly all in Congress say they want and that many in Congress have been working so hard for these past 18 months. 

Tom Sell is managing partner of Combest, Sell & Associates, a multi-client agricultural advocacy firm. CS&A was first organized to protect the farm bill in a 2005 budget reconciliation effort and is respected as an agricultural budget expert.