Senate Committee on Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Thursday announced that cuts to direct payments originally included in the Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill would be offered as part of a larger package to avoid the March 1 sequestration deadline.
The sequestration – a series of automatic spending cuts – would affect millions of jobs, including those of Food Safety and Inspection Service workers, as well as funds for food programs and law enforcement, Stabenow said in a press call Thursday. Additionally, it is expected to cut farm commodity and conservation programs by about $7 billion and USDA discretionary spending by 5% if no action is taken.
As part of the Senate Democrats' larger proposal to avoid across the board cuts, Sen. Stabenow notes that the cuts offered allow the agriculture industry to "do its part" in spending reduction.
"All of our preferences would be to have done this within the Farm Bill and we did that," Stabenow says. "We could not get the house leadership to take up the farm bill and so now we are faced with another reality, which is sequester and irrational and irresponsible cuts."
Specifically, the larger bill would cut defense spending and net farm bill spending each by $27.5 billion over the coming decade. The total elimination of direct commodity production subsidies yields $31 billion, but the bill also reinvests $3.5 billion to pay for a full farm bill extension, including the programs left stranded by the earlier partial farm bill extension.
The bill also provides disaster assistance, and would raise an additional $55 billion by closing two tax gaps and placing a minimum tax on millionaires.
Further, Stabenow said moving forward with these cuts would allow the Senate Ag Committee to write a five-year farm bill focusing on policy changes. She clarified that if the proposed cuts were made to direct payments, agriculture's contribution to deficit reduction would be fulfilled.
"With the dollars left in the commodity title, we can write a farm bill," Stabenow said. "That doesn't mean we won't debate any other cuts or changes, but this satisfies the deficit reduction goal that we have had as [an agriculture] committee."
Despite Stabenow's confidence that the Senate can get a full Farm Bill passed without the deficit reduction aspect, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., released a statement regarding the plan calling it an "attack on rural America."
"We made those reforms in the context of a comprehensive, five-year farm bill that ensured we still met the food and fiber needs of all Americans. The Senate’s approach of taking away our investment in rural America without addressing the hole it will create is not balanced and not acceptable," Lucas said.
Though Stabenow could not say if Senate Republicans supported the sequestration bill, she said she expected a vote following next week's work period.