Budget negotiators looking to offset the cost of a medical device tax repeal being pushed by Republicans might harvest some of the savings from the farm bill.
That's just one of the pieces at play in an increasingly complicated Rubik's cube of how to find an agreement to end the government shutdown and increase the federal debt limit to prevent default.
Repealing the excise tax on gross revenues of medical device makers would cost almost $30 billion over a decade. It's one key piece of a proposal floated by Maine Republican Susan Collins to get the government back up and running.
The Senate farm bill, which doesn't contain the large cuts to food stamp programs favored by the House, would generate budget savings of at least $23 billion over the next 10 years. A source familiar with the farm bill negotiations said late Friday that the idea of using the farm bill savings in the broader agreement had been discussed.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., suggested using the savings in the agriculture measure in a statement issued last week.
"I believe the farm bill — and programs like it — can be a part of the debt ceiling solution because it can provide real savings toward the deficit," Hoeven said. "In the case of the farm bill, that means more than $24 billion in savings."
Hoeven reiterated his comments in speaking with reporters Friday at the Capitol.
The House agreed on Friday to the Senate's request for a formal farm bill conference committee to go through what could be a painstaking process of resolving differences, particularly on nutrition programs. The two sides have been working behind the scenes to do as much advance work as possible, however.
The most recent extension of farm programs lapsed at the end of September, just like the funding for the appropriations bills.
There's nothing particularly new about the idea of capturing the savings in the new five-year farm policy measure. Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has previously expressed interest in using the savings as part of other fiscal deals if it would help the path to enactment.
"Senators worked across the aisle to overwhelmingly pass bipartisan Farm Bills the last two years in a row. If that same bipartisanship endures in the conference committee, we will cut tens of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending, make major reforms to improve crop insurance and strengthen other risk management tools, streamline and strengthen conservation and nutrition programs, and create jobs by investing in rural America," Stabenow said in a statement Friday. "We are now closer than ever to completing a five-year Farm Bill that will create jobs and provide certainty to our agriculture economy and the sixteen million people who work in agriculture."