Farm bill can wait, economist says

2012-09-19T18:30:00Z 2012-09-20T00:04:30Z Farm bill can wait, economist saysBy TOM LUTEY The Billings Gazette

Farmers are demanding Congress pass a new, $900 billion farm bill by the end of the month, but a conservative Montana economist says there’s no rush. Putting the bill on hold might benefit taxpayers, he said.

“There’s no imminent danger,” said Vince Smith, a conservative economist with the American Enterprise Institute and a Montana State University professor. “It seems unlikely that the lack of a new farm bill or reauthorization of the current bill will cost the Montana producer, other than dairy farmers.”

Dairy farmers receive a subsidy to help offset imbalances between milk prices and what it costs to feed a dairy cow, though Montana’s dairy industry is small.

For months, AEI economists have urged Congress to trim billions of dollars from the 2012 farm bills proposed by the Senate and House. Though lawmakers insist their bills, which spend about $900 billion over 10 years, are leaner than the soon-to-expire 2008 farm bill, Smith and others argue there might not be any savings.

The 2008 farm bill expires at the end of September. The Senate in June authorized a new farm bill version that it says is $23 billion leaner than the current farm bill, mostly because direct government payments to farmers have been eliminated.

The House Agriculture Committee has authored a bipartisan farm bill it says is more than $30 billion lighter. The House cuts are deeper than the Senate’s, mostly because of cuts to nutrition programs like food stamps for the poor.

But Republican leaders have blocked the House Ag bill from a vote by all 435 lawmakers, arguing there aren’t enough yes votes to bother. House Democrats are balking at nutrition program cuts. Tea Party Republicans say the cuts to both nutrition and farm subsidies aren’t deep enough.

Without a House vote, the farm bill is in limbo because lawmakers will head home in October to campaign, though for farm-state Republicans, failure to pass a farm bill has become an election issue.

However waiting might be the best bet for deeper farm bill cuts, Smith said. In January, a newly elected House and Senate will turn to cutting deficit spending. In that environment, deeper cuts to the farm bill might be considered, among them cuts to federally subsidized crop insurance and conservation programs, as well as deeper cuts to food stamps.

Smith said the Senate’s cuts to direct payments were a good step, but that too much of the savings was then spent on creating new insurance programs that commit taxpayers to backfilling farm profits whenever crop payouts dip 20 percent or more.

With crop prices currently on a historic high streak, payments are sure to drop, Smith said, which means taxpayers will have to pony up.

Proponents of passing a farm bill now have been the loudest voices in the debate for months. Farm groups lobbied in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12 to force the issue. But now the opponents are speaking up. The Wall Street Journal this week editorialized that postponing a farm bill vote has merit. The Journal contends that passing a nearly trillion dollar bill ahead of a greater effort at deficit reduction doesn’t make sense.

There are many voices arguing sooner is better for the farm bill, including U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Wednesday, Baucus took the Senate floor to say it’s inexcusable for House Republicans to leave farmers in the lurch.

“This isn’t my first farm bill, and I can tell you from personal experience that this is unprecedented. House leadership has never blocked a farm bill that has been reported out of Ag Committee,” Baucus said.

One in five jobs in Montana is tied to agriculture, which make the farm bill a jobs bill for the state, Baucus said. Montana’s Democratic Sens. Baucus and Jon Tester and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg are all encouraging farm bill passage as soon as possible.

Rehberg was one of nine Republican lawmakers to join a petition attempt to force the farm bill to the floor for a vote, though a couple of Republicans have since withdrawn their names.

Baucus contends that delaying passage of the farm bill causes uncertainty in the farm economy because the federal programs that farms depend on aren’t a sure bet. Drought and fire have wreaked havoc in agriculture this year and the farm programs are needed to address those losses, Baucus said.

Smith said many of the programs upon which farmers rely are secured by other non-farm bill provisions in the federal government. Nutrition programs for the poor and elderly will not expire. There is time to craft a leaner bill.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. sagebush
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    sagebush - September 21, 2012 5:38 am
    Thinks outfit- Ya they're made up alright ! has alot of other "made-up" info also.
  2. Thinks outfit
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    Thinks outfit - September 20, 2012 1:57 pm
    Sagebrush your figures must be all made up. If 65% of 6.8 billion went to less than half the farmers that would mean some of us would receive half a million dollars. Not possible. In actuality each farmer may get a few thousand dollars to offset freight prices(basically paying BN). The only thing farmers really care about is keeping the crop insurance prices low which is where most of the money goes. Doesn't anyone actually understand how any of this works. FARMERS DON'T GET HUGE CHECKS. Educate yourselves people. That's what's wrong with this country...idiots
  3. youngmontanian
    Report Abuse
    youngmontanian - September 20, 2012 8:30 am
    Just ANOTHER ENTITILEMENT! Dear Americans... we are BROKE unless you are starving/ and your kids are without a home, there should be NO more handouts, I dont care if you think you have the most important job in the world you do not need as much money as you get from the government so that you can drive new $50k pick-ups in your $500 cowboy/cowgirl get up. Everyone is getting too much, the rich need those jets and boats, just like our farmers need those brand spanking new pick-ups and the trip to the PBR in vegas, business owners are writing off the toilet paper they use... We should only take WHAT WE HAVE TO. We ALL are apart of the problem, its time to stop and smell the roses!
  4. sagebush
    Report Abuse
    sagebush - September 20, 2012 8:21 am
    FYI- 10 % of Montana farmers, enrolled in the program, received 65 % of Montana's portion,of 6.8 BILLION dollars, since 1995. The biggest recipient was DNRC at 20,504,915 dollars. 46 % of Montana's farmers receives subsidies. I, personally am tired of paying for this Rural Welfare program to benefit MILLIONAIRE FARMERS !
  5. Abraham
    Report Abuse
    Abraham - September 20, 2012 8:17 am
    Anyone who would even consider voting for the Republicans has to be plumb crazy.
  6. Lee
    Report Abuse
    Lee - September 20, 2012 8:02 am
    When they are cutting they may need to look at cutting funding to land grant universities. Specifically funding economists.
  7. billy banger
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    billy banger - September 20, 2012 7:56 am
    Republicans will not fix this country, they are the problem with this country.
  8. sarah lynn
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    sarah lynn - September 20, 2012 6:17 am
    Senate Republicans yesterday blocked the Veterans Jobs Bill. Look at the high suicide rate and level of unemployment among veterans. Who are we as a country?
  9. Just thinking
    Report Abuse
    Just thinking - September 20, 2012 12:41 am
    This is today's Republican party. Denny has given them his complete loyalty and screwed over people in other states when it came to jobs in their industries, in the name of "keeping the economy from recovering so that we can get seats back in Congress in 2010 and the White House in 2012.", so why would they listen to him when he "asks for mercy" on the farm bill. The Republicans delayed the FAA bill which had construction projects for airports and facilities, they delayed the Highway bill which had jobs around the entire country, today the Senate had a vote on a Veterans Jobs Bill which would have given vets training for jobs as cops, firefighters, and work in other federal projects, plus tax credits. The list goes on and on and on. I watched Denny in 2010 saying how their first priority was going to be jobs. HAH! Their first bill was an abortion bill, they spent time reading the Constitution, and then proceeded to vote against every jobs bill that came forth.
  10. billy banger
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    billy banger - September 19, 2012 8:15 pm
    Nine Repugs out of 435 look like they are really looking out for the farmers and the farm bill. Rehberg knew the bill was not going to brought to the floor and his petition makes him look like he cares about farmers which he does not.

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