Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has offered a sequestration package that includes farm bill provisions. Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow says the package would eliminate direct payments avoid all sequestration-related USDA cuts and fund disaster assistance programs that were not included as part of the farm bill extension. Stabenow says the provision will fill the holes in the extension passed New Year’s Eve so that all of agriculture is supported. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition – the elimination of direct payments would save 31-billion dollars over 10 years. Overall – the package is controversial because half of the money to avoid across-the-board cuts would come from spending cuts and half would come from what Stabenow describes as closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and well-connected. Republicans have been opposed to any tax increases. Stabenow expects a vote on the package before March 1st.
If the measure is approved – the Agriculture committees would not need to make cuts in any other program in the agriculture budget function when writing a new five-year farm bill. Stabenow believes Congress could write a bill with the money remaining in the commodity title. She says the decision to eliminate direct payments is based on bipartisan agreement in the House and Senate to do so last year. She says the cuts would likely begin in fiscal year 2014.