Indiana Republicans pitch alternative ag bill as deficit buster

A pair of Indiana Republicans are pitching a deficit-slashing agriculture reform bill that pits them against powerful farm-state lawmakers of both parties.

Sen. Dick Lugar and Rep. Marlin Stutzman want the deficit-cutting supercommitttee to consider their "Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act," which they say would save $40 billion over 10 years. That's almost twice the $23 billion savings figure favored by Republican and Democratic leaders on the House and Senate agriculture committees.

Lugar and Stutzman wrote in a letter to the supercommittee that their bill "creates real reforms to U.S. farm and food support programs that will serve more farmers more fairly, while being responsive to regional and national crises that endanger the continuing success of America's farmers, and that will improve accuracy and efficiency in federal nutrition programs, while protecting America's hungry."

The two lawmakers held will send their letter to the supercommittee members next week, an aide said.

Lugar and Stutzman say their bill: 

• "Reforms and eliminates outdated farm subsidies by providing a genuine safety net for all producers";

• Makes "sensible conservation reforms that save an estimated $11 billion over 10 years";

• "Close[s] loopholes and eliminate[s] government overlap in federal nutrition programs, saving $14 billion over ten years and cutting 2 percent from nutrition program spending"; 

• "Create[s] rural jobs in new and renewable energy" while investing in agricultural research.

"We look forward to working with you, as well as the rest of the members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, to eliminate out-dated and unnecessary programs, provide a cost-effective safety net, and save taxpayer dollars," the two lawmakers wrote to the supercommittee.

Agriculture committee leaders meanwhile are proposing less expansive reforms. They're expecting to send their recommendations to the supercommittee early next week, an aide said late Friday, but they've already confirmed the $23 billion figure.

According to the Associated Press, the recommendations are likely to include eliminating a $5 billion-a-year farm subsidy called "direct payments" and cutting nutrition programs like food stamps by about $4 billion.