Baucus: 'There are some kinks that still need to be worked out'
By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The effort to write a new farm bill to present to the budget super committee has sputtered, but key farm leaders in Congress said they still hope to pass a bill this year.
The 12-member bipartisan super committee is scheduled to vote on its budget proposals on Nov. 23. If they pass, the House and Senate are supposed to vote on those measures by Dec. 23.
If the bill does not pass the House and Senate, automatic cuts to both defense and domestic spending would go into effect next October.
The chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees have already said they would agree to a $23 billion cut in the agriculture budget over 10 years, but they want to write a new five-year farm bill as part of the process.
When senators returned Nov. 7 from a week-long break, the Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Agriculture Committee met separately to discuss the status of the bill.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told reporters, "I admire all the hard work that has gone into this, but there are some kinks that still need to be worked out."
Aides said Baucus was concerned about wheat getting fair treatment. Baucus is considered the key to convincing the super committee to accept the proposal because he is the only member to sit on an agriculture committee.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said that if the agriculture committees' chairmen and ranking members cannot come up with a plan that is satisfactory before the super committee has to vote on Nov. 23, then they should get more time to write a proper bill, even if it means leaving the farm bill until next year.
Conrad said waiting until next year could mean cuts above the $23 billion.
"It's more important to get it right than to rush it," he said.
Conrad, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., all spoke this week at a farm bill conference in Fargo, N.D. The senators noted that there was still work to be done, but also revealed some key aspects of the bill.
They said it has proven difficult to write a new commodity title that would cover all the program crops in all the regions in which they are grown.
Conrad said the program under consideration to provide assistance for losses not covered by crop insurance was too focused on the "I" states -- Illinois, Indiana and Iowa -- which are more concerned about protection against price drops, while farmers in North Dakota and other Plains states are concerned "about the big enchilada" -- sharp production declines, price declines and quality losses.
Members of the agriculture committee have not seen a proposal in writing, Conrad said, adding that World Trade Organization commitments also have to be followed.
He said that the average crop revenue election program known as ACRE came out of Ohio, another state concerned with price drops, but that corn growers who were expected to be enthusiastic about it did not sign up for it in big numbers because it was based on an area trigger, not an individual farmer's production.
Conrad also said that if the new program is based on a county or crop reporting district trigger, that will mean some farmers get payments when they do not have losses, while others will have losses and not get payments.
"I'm very concerned about having a farm program that is defensible," Conrad said. "It's got to have programs to pay people with losses and not pay people who don't have them."
He added that "everybody has to be subject to payment limits," and that some commodity groups are trying to convince members that payment limits should not be applied to their products.
Conrad also said dairy farmers should be subject to payment limits under the new program that has been proposed for them.