Unlike earlier proposals that cut Farm Bill spending anywhere from $11 billion to $48 billion, the debt reduction deal that was passed last week does not include any immediate cuts to farm safety net programs. However, the joint Congressional committee charged with finding up to $1.5 trillion in additional budget savings by Thanksgiving will have the option of considering cuts to mandatory Farm Bill programs. Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, says cuts to agriculture spending and farm programs are almost a given. With the Senate proposing cuts of $11 billion and the House $48 billion, he expects the final number put for by the joint committee to fall somewhere in between.
Hoefner worries that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will be relegated to a secondary role in the coming Farm Bill debate.
"Whatever the 12-person super-committee does is what is going to get done, unless the whole bill is defeated," Hoefer said. "But it's up or down with no amendments, so the ag committees really get no say-so over the major action on the Farm Bill, which is what the size of the spending is going to be."
In addition to deciding how much funding to allocate for the Farm Bill, Hoefner says it's his understanding the joint committee will also come up with the actual policy that will say how much is coming out of direct payments, or crop insurance or conservation; the committee will make the actual cuts."
Hoefner says it'll be critically important for farm, conservation and nutrition advocates to stick together in the coming weeks and months.
"If there was ever a moment where it really needs to be the Farm Bill coalition with all the players, this is it," Hoefer said. "Because here you have 12 people that are going to decide. If everybody from the anti-hunger community, the renewable energy folks, and the conservation, and the commodity people; if everybody joined together right now I think it would have a big effect."
The agriculture committees in each chamber have until Oct. 14 to submit to the joint committee their ideas for reducing Farm Bill spending.