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Farm Bill Headed For More Open Debate

Supercommittee failure provides “useful exercise” in what leaders and commodity groups hope to be more transparent farm bill debate in 2012.

For weeks we’d been waiting to see the final details of the $23 billion in suggested agricultural cuts that were going to be proposed as part of the joint deficit reduction plan. And it’ll probably never fully see the light of day, especially as reports surfaced from the ranking ag committee members that they were left out of discussions in the end and hadn’t even seen the final proposal or budget score.

Although everyone wants to know the details, the ag committees did the right thing in keeping their cards hidden until the time was right. And with no overall deal, why reveal how agriculture will cut spending if no one else will? The agricultural community has persistently said it’s willing to contribute to reducing spending if others are too.

But now, it’s time to turn our attention to what hopefully will be a more transparent and open debate on the farm bill.

One source rightly said that the exercise wasn’t useless and proved that effective relationships were built between House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, the Republican hailing from Oklahoma, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan. The whole process continues to show that agricultural policy can still be done in a bipartisan fashion, and must in order to secure support.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, (D., Minn.) thinks the agreement reached by the agriculture committees will jumpstart the farm bill process next year. “You know, we got it done. We’re the only committee that did it, and we did it on a bipartisan and bicameral basis," said Peterson, "Now we’ll have to try to figure out some other way between now and the end for the year, I still think they may come up with something, but we’ll see, otherwise, we’ll have to take what we’ve done and use as a starting place to get to work next year on getting the farm bill done."

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, (R., Kan.,) said he and other members of the two ag committees, were left out of final deal discussions in the last few weeks. Normally not only would all four leaders be involved, but also more information would be flowing to rank and file committee members.

In a statement Roberts said the farm bill would now be “written in regular order as it should be.” He commended the chairs work, but also noted the process was “not the way to write the farm bill” and called for open, public hearings where policy ideas could be discussed and debated on their merits, followed by a mark-up that allows input by all committee members.

“Significant strides were proposed in crop insurance and conservation programs. However, I had substantial concerns about what little I knew of the direction of the commodity title and the inequitable distribution of spending reductions between commodities, conservation, nutrition and specialty crop programs,” Roberts said.

The condensed timeline obviously put more stress on committee leaders and one lobbyist noted that under a regular order of business, rather than eight weeks, the final product may not be the same as what currently had been drawn together. 

With more time, it provides Congress as well as commodity groups, the time to step back and evaluate the current landscape and best decide how each dollar spent to support agriculture can be used most wisely. 

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2012. Most sources indicate Congress will push forward in 2012 to tackle farm bill reauthorization.

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