As we move into March 2013, no news report is complete without some acknowledgement of the sequester and the potential for the mandatory across-the-board cuts to affect services that the US public has come to depend on and reduce the rate of economic growth. During the first full week of March, in an attempt to make wiser cuts aimed at reducing the deficit, the President sat down to dinner with small groups of members of Congress. Up to that time, one proposed “solution” was to replace the across-the-board cuts with budget reductions that focus largely on defense and farm programs.
In an article from Farm Policy Facts, Former House Ag Committee Chair, Larry Combest provides some background and perspective on how, for some, the farm program became a primary target to achieve the mandated budget savings.
Combest argues that the failure of Congress to adopt a farm bill last year was a missed opportunity. “Now, instead of asking the [House and Senate Agriculture] Committees to report farm bill legislation that achieves a targeted amount of savings plus sensible reform, at least one Senate plan to turn off budget sequestration threatens to circumvent the Committees and eliminate nearly any semblance of a farm safety net in the current farm bill,” Combest writes.
His concern is that this “plan would terminate the direct payment. But that is not the main problem. Last year's farm bills would have done the same. The problem is how the direct payments are eliminated.
“By eliminating fully one-half of the funding available to write a new farm safety net in a five-year farm bill, the plan makes the development and successful passage of that farm bill a bigger challenge. First, there would not be adequate resources to provide a meaningful safety net for farmers. Second, an impetus behind passage of a farm bill has been to achieve the savings and reforms the bill can offer.
“What’s more, if direct payments are terminated as provided under this plan, every farmer in the country will be left with no effective policy should the farm economy collapse.” To remedy this situation Combest argues that Congressional leaders should request that the two ag committees produce a farm bill that would provide for a meaningful farm safety net while achieving the savings necessary to meet agriculture’s contribution to deficit reduction.
Combest is not arguing in favor of retaining the direct payments, but rather for reforms that would provide “a new safety net in the farm bill that does not attempt to duplicate crop insurance but does that which crop insurance was never designed to do: be there for farmers when prices collapse over multiple years…. The success of a safety net is not measured by how much it spends but whether it is there when farmers really need it.”