Senate Democrats, including Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) proposed to eliminate direct payments as a one-year delay of the planned sequestration cuts set to take effect March 1. However, 12 national farm groups sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opposing the proposal.
The proposal would cut $27 billion dollars from agriculture spending, however the cuts would come entirely from commodity programs under Title 1 of the farm bill, a lopsided approach opposed by farm groups. "While we understand the goal of passing legislation to avoid budget sequestration, your proposal takes all of the budget savings from just one section of farm bill," stated the groups in the letter. "The fact that this proposal, if adopted, would simply delay sequestration until January 2014, in hopes that a larger long-term deficit reduction deal could be reached by Congress and the White House has us very concerned that agriculture is the only non-defense budget sector being cut while other sectors are not touched."
The groups pointed out the detrimental impact that cuts from only one aspect of agriculture programs could potentially have. "Your proposed legislation seriously undermines efforts to advance much needed reforms to meet the long term risk management needs of America’s family farms," wrote the groups. "The prospect of multi-year crop disasters coupled with projections of sharp declines in commodity prices over the next few years are widely acknowledged as serious threats to the stability of farm income. With an appropriate level of resources, more efficient and market oriented risk management tools can better address the gaps in protection not covered by crop insurance. Conversely, inadequate funding to restructure the farm bill commodity title will almost certainly eliminate options to reform the farm safety net in a long term fiscally responsible manner."
The groups also highlighted concerns that cuts to farm programs in the bill were proposed not by Senate Agriculture Committee leaders, but by those on the Senate Budget Committee. "We believe decisions on which programs to cut and which to increase are far better made by the Senate Agriculture Committee through thoughtful deliberations on the needs of farmers and ranchers rather than in an omnibus bill," explained the groups. "Agriculture has been willing to accept its fair share of cuts to help reduce our nation’s unsustainable deficits. In fact, last year the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees offered to reduce spending by far more than our fair share under a new farm bill. As you know, the Senate passed a bill last summer that would have provided $23 billion in savings over the next ten years, while the House Agriculture Committee adopted legislation saving $35 billion over the same time period. While the $27 billion in reductions in your bill is in the same ballpark as the cuts achieved by both of those bills, both farm bill proposals spread the pain among various titles rather than requiring all of it be shouldered by just one title of the respective bills."