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Super Failure Sends Legislative Shockwaves Through Agriculture

posted on November 23, 2011

 Up until the final moments of the Super Committee’s deadline for record budget deficit reforms, some lawmakers still held out hope for progress. 

Sen. John Kerry, D – Massachusetts: “I think it's pretty imperative to get done what we -- I think there's a time limit on us that's coming down to hours.”

 But, no resolution came in those final hours, as the "Not-So-Super" Committee failed to agree on a package of spending cuts and potential revenue increases that would cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.  In the wake of the failure, frustrated lawmakers took to the airwaves to blame the opposing party for the deadlock.   

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas: “It's a huge missed opportunity. But, unfortunately, what we haven't seen in these talks from the other side is any Democrat willing to put a proposal on the table that actually solves the problem.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.: “But there is one sticking divide. And that is the issue of what I call shared sacrifice, where everybody contributes in a very challenging time for our country.”

Partisan rhetoric aside, three months of intense negotiations -- largely behind closed doors -- yielded occasional glimmers of hope.  But now, the impasse triggers substantial automatic spending cuts beginning in 2013. 

As part of last summer's agreement raising the U.S. debt ceiling, a super committee failure would trigger cuts of $450 billion in the Pentagon budget, leaving U.S. ground forces at their lowest level since 1940.

Additional reductions in Medicaid and other social programs also would pinch hundreds of federal agencies and Americans depending on those services.

Despite the impasse and rumblings of delaying -- or even eliminating -- the automatic spending cuts, President Obama signaled this week he would not prevent the reductions.      

President Obama: “Already, some in Congress are trying to undo these automatic spending cuts. My message to them is simple: No. I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one. We need to keep the pressure up to compromise, not turn off the pressure.”

 The largest impact of this week's super committee failure in rural America likely will be seen in the next farm bill.  Legislative negotiators had included farm bill reforms into a massive super committee plan to trim costs and overhaul the structure of federal farm programs.  The move also was aimed at staving off farm bill negotiations in the midst of a budget-starved election year. 

Farm-state negotiators have drifted toward a substantial overhaul of federal payments and the institution of a new “shallow-loss” insurance program to protect farmers against minor financial losses due to weather or price swings.

In a bipartisan statement this week, Congressional Agriculture Committee Chairs Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said:

“We are pleased we were able to work in a bipartisan way with committee members and agriculture stakeholders to generate sound ideas to cut spending by tens of billions … We will continue the process of reauthorizing the farm bill in the coming months and will do so with the same bipartisan spirit that has historically defined the work of our committees.”

While the bill authorizing current farm programs passed in 2008 despite being vetoed by President George W. Bush, it may be much more difficult in this election cycle. 

The proposed 2012 farm bill, ripe with already conceded budget cuts, could become an election-year vehicle for all kinds of agendas including unemployment benefit extensions, new tax cuts, and even fresh stimulus spending.

And with the battle over the next Farm Bill looming on the horizon, agriculture -- and rural America itself -- could be caught up in the political fray more than ever before. 

Tags: agriculture news