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PunditFact: Donna Brazile says the farm bill would reduce the deficit

The statement

"(The farm bill) has a provision that would in many ways reduce the deficit."

Donna Brazile, Dec. 29, on CNN's State of the Union

The ruling

Don't let the name of the bill fool you: The farm bill, which must be renewed every five years, touches many corners of American agricultural policy. It provides billions of dollars to some farmers in crop subsidies and also funds the country's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

The package proposed in 2013 comes with a big price tag. The Senate passed a version in June that would spend $955 billion from 2014 to 2023. The House passed its farm bill in two different pieces of legislation totaling $921 billion over a decade.

There are vast differences between the bills, particularly with SNAP policy, but they do have one thing in common: Each would reduce the deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

It's the job of the CBO to estimate the cost of legislation so policymakers know the implications of their votes. For bills like the farm bill, CBO analysts use accepted economic forecasting methods to essentially make their best guess about how programs will affect the budget under existing law.

The office projected the costs of each chamber's farm bills since spring 2013, with new estimates coming later to account for amendments and other money-related changes tacked on during the lawmaking process. To give a big picture, the analysts make some assumptions about future policy. Their estimates for the farm bills, for example, assume that programs set to expire would be reauthorized without major changes in 2018 through 2023.

Let's start with CBO's "baseline." The office assumed that if the programs in the farm bill continued in their current form over the next decade, it would cost $973 billion.

In its May analysis, the CBO found the Senate bill would reduce that total by $17.9 billion through 2023. In other words, it would have net-deficit reduction of almost $18 billion. The pair of House bills would go further, the CBO found, reducing the deficit by a total of $51.9 billion. The House would cut about 10 times more in the food stamps program than the Senate.

Both bills rack up savings by cutting back on crop subsidy and conservation programs, including eliminating direct payments to farmers regardless of whether they are currently farming their land. That program costs about $5 billion a year and was conceived in 1996 as a temporary solution.

Our ruling

Brazile said the farm bill "has a provision that would in many ways reduce the deficit." Her comment is based on estimates of the House and Senate bills by the Congressional Budget Office, which found both bills to be deficit reducers in the long term.

Over 10 years, the proposal would shrink the deficit by $20 billion or so — a paltry sum in the universe of federal spending. But, yes, technically a deficit reducer.

Brazile is right, but her comments might lead someone to more sweeping conclusions. As such, we rate this claim Mostly True.

KATIE SANDERS, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at PunditFact.com.

PunditFact: Donna Brazile says the farm bill would reduce the deficit 01/03/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 4:56pm]
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