The Senate Agriculture Committee hasn't announced a date yet to mark up the farm bill, but Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters Tuesday morning the committee will meet next week.
Responding to a question about a mark-up session next week, Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said, "That's what I've heard and that's what we'll be ready for."
Grassley said most issues moving into the mark up have been resolved outside of the commodity title. "I'd say it's the only title that's not settled at this point. There's pretty much agreement on the rest of the bill."
The committee is still shooting for a $23 billion in savings compared to the current cost projections for food and farm programs now in law.
The senator added that he hasn't seen language on the bill, but both Democrats and Republicans met with Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who indicated that most of the titles are moving along smoothly outside of the commodity title.
Grassley said the Senate's shallow-loss proposal, the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, would be included in the bill, but there will also be a target-price program "mostly to satisfy peanuts and rice." It is likely ARC will be adjusted after the Congressional Budget Office scored the cost of the program at $30.1 billion over the next decade.
The farm bill also could include some of Grassley's proposals from last year to cap farm payments at $250,000 per married couple. Marketing loans would be capped at $150,000 per couple and all other payments, including ARC, would be capped at $100,000 per couple.
Grassley's provisions also would tighten the rules on defining who qualifies as an actively-engaged farmer.
Grassley acknowledged there would be attempts to reduce crop-insurance subsidies, but he said he didn't think those would succeed. Grassley said 92% of farmers buy crop insurance. Attempts to limit it would reduce participation and lead to more payments for disaster programs.
"One way or the other, taxpayers are going to pay for disasters in agriculture. If they don't pay for it in crop insurance, then they are going to pay through disaster payments. And sometimes, they pay for it through both programs, because sometimes even though you have crop insurance there is sometimes still the rationale for disaster payments."
Grassley said it would be wiser to encourage risk management before a disaster occurs and use the premium subsidies to protect against a disaster rather than paying following a disaster. "Those things are apt to happen proportional to the subsidy. There will be a proportionate reduction in the program."
Republicans are going to pursue more cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the committee, has introduced a bill meant to reduce SNAP, --- formerly called food stamps --- by $30 billion over 10 years. Grassley said he will want to scale back the program's growth due to the 2009 stimulus bill, but would not encourage cutting SNAP beneficiaries who are currently on the program. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., ranking member of the Ag Committee, is more cautious about cuts, noting his state has a high participation rate.
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