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Debt Ceiling Agreement Expedites 2012 Farm Bill

By National Grange Legislative Update (8/10/11)

  AUGUST 18, 2011 --

Earlier proposals in the debt ceiling debate included suggested cuts in agriculture spending, anywhere from $11 to $48 billion, but at this point phase one of the debt deal leaves the agricultural community intact. Those who currently receive farm program payments under the 2008 Farm Bill structure will continue to do so until the '08 Farm Bill expiration next year. Under the plan that was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last week, all mandatory spending (which includes farm subsidies, and tax expenditures) was off the table and the cuts focused on discretionary spending.

That said, cuts to ag programs may just be postponed. Beginning October 1, 2011, as the first phase of the debt ceiling agreement, $917 billion will be cut from the discretionary budget over the next 10 years. The second phase of the plan could prove much more ominous. The second phase creates a twelve-member super committee comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans from both the House and Senate who are tasked with cutting the remaining $1.5 trillion of debt. These cuts will come from mandatory spending as well as discretionary, and the super committee must have their recommendations complete for submission by Thanksgiving. Congress is then required to vote on and pass the recommendation package by December 23, 2011.

Should Congress be unable to approve the cuts, a trigger will be hit and an automatic sequestration of funds will occur on January 1, 2013. Funds will be equally sequestered from domestic and defense programs; however, Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families and civilian/military retirements will be exempt from cuts. 

More importantly, for the 2012 Farm bill, SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which comprised 75% of the '08 Farm Bill funding, is also protected. This isn't to say that when the Senate and House Agriculture Committees make their recommendations to the Super Committee in October, they can't ask for reductions to SNAP, but the trigger won't cut the amount allotted to SNAP. All other farm programs such as subsidies, crop insurance, bio-diesel and ethanol initiatives and conservation programs are fair game.

For the Senate and House Ag Committee members, the timeline for making recommendations to the 2012 Farm Bill has been fast tracked. There is no doubt that farm subsidies, crop insurance and conservation programs will be given a long hard glance and likely a haircut. All program changes, advocacy efforts and lobbying must occur between now and Thanksgiving in order to ensure good programs get the appropriate funding and lemons are thrown out to pasture.

Take advantage of your member of Congress being at home in the district this August and talk to them about the farm programs you and your family utilize. Provide your legislators with best practices stories that highlight how small investment seed monies or subsidies have helped your farm or small business flourish. The time is now to activate your local grange on agricultural programs that are important to them.

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