D.C. Watch: Where are the cuts?

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The “super committee” that is charged with coming up with plans to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion or more over the next decade is off to a slow start. So far some key things have not been decided, such as where and when the group will meet and whether the meetings will be open or closed to the public. The committee has not yet hired a staff and committee members will not be in Washington until after Labor Day. The committee is facing a November 23 deadline to present their proposals to Congress, so efforts need to begin soon. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) says his committee will make recommendations to the super committee by mid-October. The general consensus among agriculture groups is that the across the board cuts that will be triggered if Congress can’t agree on the proposals put forward by the committee will likely be less onerous than the cuts the committee recommends.

A common refrain from almost all parties in Washington these days is that the Direct Payments program will probably be cut in the next farm bill or even before. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack told farmers in Iowa that the program is endangered and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow had the same message for a group of farmers and farm policy experts in Michigan. In many of the meetings around the country this year farmers are calling on Congress to protect the Crop Insurance programs, which have been critical for some farmers affected by droughts or floods this year.

Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) is planning to introduce a new dairy sector policy in the next few weeks. Peterson has been pushing changes in dairy policy for the last couple of months because he says “The dairy safety net did not work in 2009 and it won’t work if similar events occur now”. USDA data show that there were 65,000 dairies in 2009, which is down 33% from the number in 2001. The proposed policy would set limits on milk production when margins are squeezed either by high feed costs, falling milk prices, or both. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) says he will not move a dairy bill separate from the Farm Bill unless all sectors of the industry are in agreement. The International Dairy Foods Association is opposed to the changes in policy being proposed.

The Office of Management and Budget has directed all federal departments and agencies to find ways to reduce their budget requests for fiscal 2013 by as much as 10% below current spending levels. Discretionary spending levels should be reduced by at least 5% from levels for fiscal 2011 and the departments will have to identify additional cuts that bring the total for funds requested down by 10%. It is not clear where Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will cut the department’s budget, but it is possible that he will propose closing some Farm Service Agency offices and eliminate some statistical and economic reports.

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) is calling on the Obama Administration to cut back on environmental regulations that affect the farm sector. Roberts says the Administration is over-regulating farmers and ranchers and that the president needs to “… put the brakes on this regulatory agenda aimed at rural America”. Farmers across the country are worried about proposed regulations covering dust pollution, noise pollution and water runoff. Some members of Congress are trying to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency by cutting funding. The Obama Administration is providing $103 million to telecommunication companies to help expand broadband internet access to areas of rural America that haven’t been reached yet or are underserved. The hope is that the funds will improve economic and educational opportunities in some fairly remote areas of the country.



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