Attempting to keep automatic spending cuts from taking effect on March 1, Senate Democrats, with White House backing, have proposed an alternative to the sequester.

Without congressional action, in coming weeks federal agencies will be forced to implement $85 billion across-the-board cuts as part of $1.2 trillion in cuts mandated over the next 10 years.

In key ways the Democrat’s proposal hews closely to the farm bill passed by the Senate last summer. The “alternative sequester” would mean an end to direct payments, which were part of the 2008 farm bill extension passed in early January.

Ending direct payments would provide some $31 billion. Democrats would use $3.5 billion for disaster assistance and to fund programs left out of the aforementioned farm bill extension. The $27 billion-plus left would go to deficit reduction.

“In agriculture, we’re being very serious about evaluating government spending and setting priorities for taxpayers as well as farmers and ranchers,” said Michigan  Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, during a Thursday (Feb. 14) afternoon press conference. “In the process of writing the farm bill (in 2012) and evaluating what made sense to spend taxpayer dollars on, we agreed on a bipartisan basis that direct payments didn’t make sense, that we shouldn’t be providing a subsidy to farmers during good times of high prices or when they didn’t have a loss.