Obama, rural lawmakers on collision course over spending cuts in farm bill

President Obama’s budget puts him on a collision course this year with rural-state lawmakers over farm policy.

The five-year farm bill expires in September, making it one of the few bills with a shot of passing Congress before the election.

Farm-state lawmakers want to nail down a farm bill on time partly to avoid deeper cuts to farm programs in a lame-duck session where a grand deficit bargain might be negotiated.

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The expiration of Bush-era tax rates at the end of the year and the triggering of automatic cuts to defense spending, which many lawmakers wish to avoid, could make farm subsidies a popular target in December if a farm bill hasn’t already been approved by then.

Obama’s budget seeks $32 billion in cuts to farm payments over 10 years, and members of the congressional Agriculture committees from both parties are crying foul.

While Obama has proposed similar cuts in the past, this year he chose to ignore a new proposal developed last fall by a bipartisan group of farm-state lawmakers.

That proposal had $23 billion in total cuts and created a new insurance program that critics said could balloon taxpayer costs in future years.

Obama is oddly allied in the fight with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis), who sought about the same level of savings in his 2012 budget and might do so again this year.

Obama’s budget mirrors Ryan’s 2012 plan by finding savings from eliminating direct payments that go to farmers no matter how much they produce and reducing crop insurance.

Eliminating direct payments is widely supported in the agriculture community, but rural-state Democrats and Republicans this week came out against the $7 billion in cuts to crop insurance.

“I am encouraged the president agrees that direct payments are an indefensible program of the past, but do not agree with further cuts to crop insurance, which is a critical risk management tool,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowUSDA nixes release of multiple reports over researcher exodus Schumer throws support behind Pelosi impeachment inquiry Senate Democrats hesitant to go all-in on impeachment probe MORE (D-Mich.) said this week in a news release.

“This budget reinforces the need for Congress to pass a strong, fiscally responsible farm bill immediately this year.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said: “This proposal shows a lack of perspective and understanding in how agriculture can realistically contribute.” He called for greater cuts to food stamps and other entitlements as opposed to crop insurance.

Last fall, Lucas and Stabenow agreed on a framework proposal that some dubbed the secret farm bill. That proposal, delivered to the failed deficit-reduction supercommitee, would have cut $23 billion but also created a new “shallow loss” revenue insurance program.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a member of the Agriculture Committee, said Friday that the president’s budget will be totally ignored.

“I hope [Senate Majority Leader] Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump thanks Reid for warning Democrats not to underestimate him Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump Harry Reid predicts Trump, unlike Clinton, won't become more popular because of impeachment MORE calls it up again so that it can be defeated 97 to zero,” he said.

But other members said it remains an open question whether Obama would threaten to veto a farm bill that did not generate the level and type of savings he wants.

Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE on Friday said the administration will be in dialogue throughout the year on how to replace direct payments.

He defended the crop insurance changes under questioning from Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) at a House Appropriations Committee hearing Friday when Emerson said cuts could endanger the program’s viability.

Vilsack explained that crop insurance savings come from reducing premium-support payments by 2 percent for those farmers who receive subsidies that are greater than 50 percent of the cost of insurance.

Emerson said after the hearing that the Obama budget complicates the effort to do a farm bill on time this year.

King argued that Vilsack is way off base and that Obama’s cuts threaten the whole crop insurance program. He said rather than rush to complete a farm bill, he will hold out for a solution that protects insurance providers.

He said food stamp use needs to be slashed, something fiercely opposed by House liberals such as Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who vowed Friday to vigorously fight any cuts to nutrition programs that are used to preserve farm programs.

She praised the Obama budget for getting it right.

Meanwhile, Republican farm-state House members are talking with Ryan to see how deep he plans to cut before they embark on crafting a farm bill or laying out a schedule. This week, Budget Committee member Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerPortland hotel chain founded by Trump ambassador says boycott is attack on employees VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Coalition of farmers and ranchers endorses Green New Deal MORE (D-Ore.), a lead farm-subsidy critic, said he wishes to work with Ryan to set out deep cuts to farm programs in the budget process.

All this leads observers to conclude that the Agriculture chairmen will have a hard time passing a farm bill by the time it expires, necessitating an extension into next year.

“It is not very promising that we will have a farm bill this year,” said Oxfam America’s Jim French.