As the federal government closes out its fiscal year, most observers would agree that the budget process has turned into a real mess.

Earlier this week, the House and Senate narrowly reached an agreement on a continuing resolution that extended the spending authority for federal agencies until Nov. 18, thus avoiding the threat of another government shutdown.

In essence, congressional leaders simply punted the problem about six weeks down the road to a time when they’ll have to find a way to avert another showdown between Republican deficit hawks and Democrat pro-government hardliners.

How did the Congress get in this mess and what might happen in the weeks ahead? The National Sorghum Producers has compiled a recap of the deficit reduction battles of recent weeks under the heading, “Federal Deficit Reduction & Your Farm – Part 1: Committees, Gangs and Groups,” in the Sept. 29 issue of its weekly Sorghum Notes:

“Super committee, a gang of six, a group here, a plan there. You’ve heard about the numerous budget scenarios for the last several months on the evening news, but what do they mean when it comes to sorghum and farm policy? Over the next few weeks, NSP explains what has been proposed and what is currently on the table when it comes to cuts to agriculture.

“In the first of this two-part series, we will chronologically revisit the proposed deficit reduction plans that have outlined major cuts to agriculture.

“December 2010– After 10 months of work, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, or the Simpson-Bowles group, proposed $15 billion in cuts to agriculture over 10 years.

“April 2011– House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan, the Path to Prosperity, proposed almost $30 billion in cuts to agriculture over the next 10 years with direct payments and crop insurance in the plan’s cross hairs.

“June 2011– The Biden Group, a group of six lawmakers chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, was charged with finding $2.5 trillion in budget cuts. The Biden Group proposed $34 billion in cuts to agriculture but negotiations broke down at the last minute.

“July 2011– The bipartisan ‘Gang of Six’ proposed a solution to U.S. debt ceiling crisis that would cut $11 billion to agriculture over the next 10 years, but Senator Tom Coburn resigned from the group, ending its chances of bipartisan success.

Then what?

“August 2011– The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the ‘Super Committee’, was created by Budget Control Act of 2011 to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion before Nov. 23. The committee consists of 12 members of Congress, half from the Senate and half from the House with each delegation equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.

“September 19, 2011– President Obama reveals his American Jobs Act, which proposes $33 billion in future cuts to agriculture, calling for elimination of direct payments (assuming higher enrollment in ACRE as a result), cuts to crop insurance subsidies to both companies and growers, cuts to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and continuing the widely criticized Supplemental Disaster Assurance Program (SURE) for 5 years with a price tag of $8.4 billion.

“October 14, 2011– Committees of jurisdiction, like the Ag Committee, may present recommendations for budget cuts to the Super Committee, which may then choose to use or scrap them.

“November 23, 2011– The Super Committee must report to Congress with its deficit reduction plan and prepare for an up or down vote.

“December 23, 2011– Congress is due to vote on cuts.

“Then what? If the Super Committee succeeds in cutting $1.5 trillion from the federal budget and both the House and Senate approve the plan, the country theoretically gets to move on to other priorities. If the Super Committee recommends any less than $1.5 trillion in cuts, the balance will be gained from an across-the-board reduction process called sequestration. Next week, we’ll take a look at agriculture’s seat at the table, and specifically, what the National Sorghum Producers is doing to make sure your voice is heard in ongoing negotiations.”