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Super committee scrum begins over spending cuts

The 12 members of Congress’ “super committee” have now been named. Jostling over how to cut spending/impose taxes worth $1.5 trillion from the federal budget will now begin in earnest.

The 12 members of Congress’ “super committee” have now been named. Jostling over how to cut spending/impose taxes worth $1.5 trillion from the federal budget will now begin in earnest.

One big question for agriculture is what the negotiations will mean for the next farm bill.

For more, see super committee.

Part of the debt ceiling compromise that largely paralyzed Congress this summer, the super committee – six members from the Senate, six from the House, and divided evenly among the parties – now has until Nov. 23 to come up with the $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade. If it doesn’t, some $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts (expected to mostly hit the defense budget and discretionary spending) will be made.

On Friday morning, Farm Press spoke with D.C.-based Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), about expectations regarding the committee’s work, the next farm bill and the difficulties of the current legislative climate. Among his comments:

On what’s going on with the super committee…

“The twelve members of the super committee have been selected – six from the House, six from the Senate. They’ll have their first meeting in mid-September.

“Prior to that, I suspect the agriculture committees (from the House and Senate) will have developed a list of savings they’ll forward to the super committee. Then, we’re off to the races.”

Do you expect that list will be broken down into cuts for farm programs, nutrition, etc.? Or will it just be a round number and the specific cuts will come later?

“I think there will be specific (cuts offered, not just a round number).

“The super committee isn’t giving – or hasn’t yet given, anyway – the agriculture committees a target to reach. There may be some informal discussions going on. But they haven’t told the committees ‘you’ve got to come up with $10 billion or $15 billion (in cuts).’

“Absent that number, I think what will happen is the agriculture committees will determine what they see is a reasonable offer. There’s probably a lot of back-and-forth, right now, to try and determine what the parameters are going to be.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, between now and when Congress comes back from recess, the committees will be given more direction, a number or a target. Maybe not, though.

“In any event – and this is just speculation -- I think the committees will attach some policy decisions to the (proposed) numbers.”

Maslyn wouldn’t speculate on what those policy decisions might be.

Are the agriculture committees working together yet?

“I don’t think they are. I’m sure they will – but not yet.” 

What have you been telling AFBF members? 

“Our board has been meeting for the past year. At every meeting we’ve had a farm policy discussion. Our policy is set by our voting delegates.

“We like things like direct payments, conservation, crop insurance/risk-management programs.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do: we’ll have a discussion with our board of directors and talk about what suggestions we’ll make to the agriculture committees as to where the reductions, or savings, should come from.

“We’ve been telling our members for the last 18 months that the next farm bill will have less money to spend than the previous farm bill.

“We’ve told them there are 37 or 38 programs without a baseline and if those programs are to continue, money will have to be found. And it will not be found outside the agriculture committees. It’ll have to be found within the committees if those programs are to survive.

“If you’ve got $1 to spend, how do you want it spent? Less on conservation and more on commodities? Less on commodities and more on conservation? More on risk management?

“Those are the sort of choices. It will all be internal.

“We’ve told (AFFB members), ‘you can’t write the same farm bill with less money.’ They need to think about policy options and be prepared for the next farm bill to be less generous.”

Anything else?

“These are very challenging times. People have seen what’s going on with Wall Street and the financial markets around the world, the debt rating, the very difficult debate (over the debt ceiling) in Congress a few weeks ago. We’ve got serious challenges and the country needs to deal with them.

“We’ve always maintained that agriculture would do its fair share to help the country achieve a better financial balance and manage debt better. But we don’t want to be singled out disproportionately.”

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