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Agriculture may be low priority of debt super committee, warns House leader
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who serves as ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, said that he is “pretty well resigned that we’re not going to get anybody in the House that’s going to have much of a connection to agriculture on the [super] committee.”
Peterson is referring to the newly created “super committee,” officially known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is made up of three party members each from the House and Senate, that will deal with the particulars of deficit reduction as agreed to in the debt ceiling deal. Congressional leaders have until Aug. 16 to name those 12 members, and special interest groups are already getting involved in the process.
Peterson, speaking with FarmPolicy.com, said he believes there might be an opportunity for someone with an agriculture interest on the Senate side to be named to the committee.
“And what I’m hoping is that we can get their Senator [Kent] Conrad [of North Dakota] or Senator [Max] Baucus [of Montana] appointed to that committee, so at least we’ll have somebody at the table that has a good understanding of ag policy and implications,” he said.“There was a lot of what I consider wild talk in some of these other groups that were meeting in terms of what they thought they could do, you know, and they all got together and said, ‘Well, we can cut farm programs, that’s not a problem.’ So that will be the first phase, but I don’t expect it to be very positive in terms of … who gets on there, but we’ll see.”
Congressional leaders have already gone to the committees and asked for recommendations on where cuts can be made.
“Well, the Ag Committee’s already cut twice, and we’re not getting any credit for it. The cuts that they’ve been talking about, they’re talking three times as much as cuts in agriculture as they are in other areas, which I am not going to go along with,” he added.
The super committee will be given wide discretion to make the agreed upon cuts from the budget, but there is no way of knowing if the discussions will result in across-the-board cuts or if one particular area will see more cuts than others.
“So first of all the committee’s got to come up with a number, and then, as I understand it, if they do come up with a number, then they’ll send that to the committee in the House and Senate, and then we’ll have to figure out how to meet that number. That’s as much as I know about the process, and that may or may not be right. Nobody really knows how this is going to actually work,” Peterson said.
If the super committee fails in its appointed task, the process goes into an automatic sequestration to cut $1.5 trillion from the budget. And while the super committee members have great latitude in deciding national cuts, if sequestration kicks in there are certain programs that will be exempt from cuts. One such program that Peterson highlighted was food stamps.
“I don’t think think they’re protected under the super committee power, but you’d get a lot of howling from people if you were going to try to cut food stamps during the process when, if the process didn’t work, food stamps wouldn’t be cut. So that could set up a scenario where they could never pass anything,” he said.
The good news from an ag standpoint seems to be that if the super committee members fail, the end result would likely be “in the range of $5 to $6 billion in our jurisdiction, which is much lower than anything that’s been talked about.” Given that, Peterson concluded, he believes sequestration might be the best outcome for ag-related interests — and he can foresee a situation that could lead to that outcome.
“How is this committee, made up of six Democrats and six Republicans, going to every come an agreement that can pass the House and pass the Senate?” he asked. “I just think it’s very problematic. The argument is that because they put defense cuts in there, the defense cuts are going to force the committee to do this because people don’t want to cut defense. Well, that could be with some people, but there’s going to be a lot of people that look at this, and that they’re trying to — say they went back to $32 billion in agriculture [cuts] — and the number on the sequestration is $6 billion. I don’t think you’re going to find many farm state folks that are going to want to do that in the Senate.”
The first set of spending caps for the nation — $917 billion over 10 years — are scheduled to begin on Oct. 1 and will impact current spending by $21 billion in 2012. While those cuts aren’t expected to directly impact agriculture producers, they are likely to cause shifts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s administrative systems that could affect delivery to producers.
The supercommittee will need to release its plan to cut between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion by Nov. 23, and the plan will be given an up or down vote (no amendments or delays allowed) by Dec. 23. If the plan is not enacted by Congress — and it is difficult to imagine a plan that would meet the demands of both House Republicans focused on protecting defense interests and Senate Democrats focus on increasing revenues — across the board cuts are triggered on Jan. 15, 2012, with half coming from national security and defense. Medicare would also be subject to cuts, although Social Security and Medicaid are excluded. Those reduction would take effect in January 2013 and continue through fiscal year 2021.
Whether or not the supercommittee is successful, the deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling included a mandate that both chamber of Congress must hold a vote before Dec. 31 on sending a balanced budget amendment to the states, a process that would require a two-thirds majority and is highly unlikely to find such a level of favor. Still, the situation itself will most certainly replay in election ads the following year.