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Can Kicked on Farm Bill, Leaving Ag Advocates Disappointed

As far as the House Committee on Agriculture that is tasked to come up with new legislation the entire chamber can agree upon in the new Congress, Democrats picked up one seat, resulting in a 25-21 ratio compared to 26-20 in the 112th Congress. But there has been no progress towards a multi-year farm bill because they have yet to even hold a meeting.

According to Tamara Hinton, spokeswoman for the committee, they are not yet formally organized as a committee under the House rules. While there are eight new Republicans that have officially joined the committee roster, Democrats have yet to confirm their membership.

But Johanns remains optimistic and sees the bipartisan work of the last session to be a foundation for a permanent solution.

“As I have said on a number of occasions, we were able to get a lot of bipartisan support for that [Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012],” said Johanns. “I don't see any reason why that work can't be the foundation for the bill that we pass this year. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Senate bill was a good bill. I will be more than happy to do everything I can to try to get that same version to the floor and to—and get it passed. It was well received by ag groups. I think it was a fair compromise by interests involved. … And I just think that that is the template for going forward.”

Vilsack believes an important aspect of a Farm Bill is its ability to provide a safety net for America’s producers. For example, prior to the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill disaster programs, the USDA was able to provide more than 400,000 disaster payments totaling more than $4 billion in assistance.

However, conservative members of the GOP caucus want to reform the safety nets, particularly the levels allocated to food stamps, which proved to be a major sticking point during Congress’s greater battle of reducing the deficit.

The failed multi-year farm bill that passed the Senate last year would have cut $4.5 billion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program over 10 years, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis said. The House was looking to cut $16 billion over 10 years from the program.

Johanns is also saying he would like to see the 113th Congress rein in spending and sign a “reform-minded” farm bill into law.

The USDA’s 2012 budget nearly totaled $150 billion, and food stamps for needy families accounted for about half of the department’s spending with the number of people receiving SNAP benefits reaching a record high of 46.6 million as of December 2012, according to the USDA.

According to the CBO’s March 2012 projections, the number of people who receive SNAP benefits will continue to rise slightly from fiscal year 2012 through fiscal year 2014, then decline in the following years. Total federal spending on the SNAP program will peak in 2013 at $82 billion, CBO estimates, one year before the projected peak in participation.

Currently, the president’s 2013 budget for Vilsack and his department calls for a decrease of nearly 3 percent—almost $700 million—below the 2012 enacted level and reduces the deficit by $32 billion over 10 years by eliminating direct farm payments, decreasing subsidies to crop insurance companies and better targeting conservation funding for high priority areas.

However, the budget does not call for a reduction in food stamp funding. Rather, the administration’s budget aims to support all who are eligible for SNAP benefits and allocates $7.5 billion for discretionary nutrition program support for an estimated 9.1 million Americans expected to participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).