Congress' Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to reach an agreement to cut $1.2 trillion in total spending over 10 years to begin reducing the national debt. The ongoing partisanship in Congress was a key factor with some not wanting to raise taxes and others wanting to exempt social security and Medicare from potential cuts. Because of the super committee's failure to reach an agreement, automatic spending cuts are scheduled to begin in January 2013, with half coming from defense spending and half from domestic spending. There are a number of programs that are exempt from these automatic cuts, including Social Security, Medicaid, civilian and military retirement, Conservation Reserve Program, Child Nutrition Programs, Commodity Supplemental Food Program and Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). Already various congressional members are planning on offering legislation next year to limit or exempt the Pentagon from these cuts. We can expect the issues of taxes and federal programs to be debated throughout the 2012 campaign as each party tries to gain leverage in next year's election. As the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Six and the Bowles-Simpson Committee each noted in their proposals earlier this year, everything has to be on the table – taxes, defense spending, domestic spending and entitlements – if the deficit is going to be resolved.
Drafting the Farm Bill Returns to Familiar Course— With the failure of the super committee, the efforts by the House and Senate Agriculture Committee's leadership to develop a farm bill proposal that would have cut $23 billion is now over. In a joint statement, Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted, "House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders developed a bipartisan, bicameral proposal for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that would save $23 billion. However, the Joint Select Committee's failure to reach a deal on an overall deficit reduction package effectively ends this effort." Some members of the agriculture committees felt the process of developing the $23 billion agriculture proposal was not transparent. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said, “Today's announcement by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction means that a farm bill will now be written in regular order as it should be. I call on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to hold open, public hearings where policy ideas are discussed and debated on their merits, followed by a mark-up that allows input by all committee members." The committees are expected to begin the farm bill debate next year through regular order – hearings, committee mark-up, floor action and conference committee. What portions of the leadership's farm bill proposal will serve as the base bill is yet to be determined, as well as what the funding level will be.
Korea Passes FTA — The Korean National Assembly passed the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, “This is a win-win-win agreement that will provide significant economic and strategic benefits to both countries. We look forward to working closely with the government of Korea to bring the agreement into force as soon as possible." Implementation of the agreement will begin next year. Korean tariffs on imports of beef muscle cuts will decline from the current 40% to zero in 15 equal annual reductions. Ninety percent of U.S. pork products will become duty-free by 2016. This is a reduction from current applied rates of 22.5% and 25% and applies to all frozen and processed pork products.