D.C. Watch: Farm bill progressing

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The Senate Agriculture Committee made quick work of the farm bill last week, passing it on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill will come up for debate on the Senate floor as soon as work is completed on the Water Resources Development Act.

Passage by the full Senate is likely by this week.

The bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee looks a lot like the bill passed last year, but the new version includes a target price – counter cyclical program called “Adverse Market Payments” (AMP). The bill “saves” $24 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office, with most of the saving from commodity programs.

The bill also cuts food and nutrition programs by about $4 billion.

A caution though: Any bill passed by the House will have food and nutrition cuts several times that amount and the differences will be hard to bridge if/when the bills get to conference committee.

There were a couple other changes to the Senate bill on Tuesday. The bill that came out of the committee does link conservation compliance to crop insurance, but eliminated the cap on premium subsidies to producers with adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more. The crop target prices will be set by calculating the five-year Olympic average and multiplying the result by 0.55. Rice and peanut target prices are exempt from this calculation and are set at $13.30 per cwt for rice and $523.77 per ton for peanuts.

The House Agriculture Committee also passed a version of the farm bill last week. The target for “savings” in the House bill is near $40 billion with about half of that total in cuts to food and nutrition programs.

The proposed dairy program was an area of contention in the House Agriculture Committee with Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., pushing a plan that has supply control provisions when prices are low. But Representative Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., opposes supply management. The Peterson plan was approved, but Representative Goodlatte plans to bring up his amendment when the bill reaches the House floor.

The bill could come to the House floor in June.

Since the Senate added the target price option to its bill this year, differences in the commodity titles of the different bills may not be all that great. Even so the development of an overall compromise on a 5-year farm bill will probably be difficult.

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