Several Issues in Next Farm Bill Concern Congress

Several Issues in Next Farm Bill Concern Congress

The Obama Administration came under fire from farm state lawmakers over stalled free trade deals and cuts to crop insurance as work continued on a 2012 Farm Bill.

Former Ag Secretary Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb., charged from the Senate floor President Obama must do more than give a speech about doubling U.S. exports over the next five years; he must send languishing trade deals up to the Hill for votes.

"Consider this," Johanns said. "American producers are currently forced to pay substantial tariffs on their exports to Colombia, to South Korea, to Panama. These agreements would wipe out most if not all of those tariffs."

Johanns says millions have already been paid since the deals were signed.

In a House hearing, USDA Under Secretary Jim Miller said USDA supports the agreement, but there must be enough bipartisan support in Congress.

"That is a strategy call that needs to be made between the White House and the Congressional leadership in terms of the timing," Miller said. "But we view them as positive for agriculture and we would like to see those agreements ratified."

Farm leaders argued U.S. ag exports continue to tumble to the three new FTA partners as other nations make their own deals with the countries.

Miller was also asked about USDA's new reinsurance agreement with insurers that saves $6 billion over 10 years - $4 billion going for deficit reduction and $2 billion for new producer coverage. The question is will the Congressional Budget Office count the savings against the next farm bill?
"Now that we are closer to finalizing this agreement we believe that they will look very hard at the numbers that we have developed, which have been confirmed by the Office of Management and Budget," Miller said. "They should also consider the Administration's announcement of how we would utilize that $2 billion to bolster programs and take that into consideration as they do develop their next baseline."

Meantime, Miller agrees with others that safety net programs probably need to be squeezed for savings and to eliminate overlap along with simplification of the new ACRE and SURE programs.

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