June 24, 2011
After another series of meetings between Vice President Biden and six congressional leaders attempting to negotiate a deal to raise the federal debt limit while reducing the deficit, the week ended with some dramatic developments. First House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) walked away from the process, followed by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Those moves have now pushed the deal making up a notch to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
When the Biden talks broke up, they reportedly had agreed on over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, including over $30 billion in farm bill cuts, and were searching for additional points of agreement on shutting down tax loopholes or dealing with entitlement spending.
Meanwhile, the Senate has halted any action on a budget resolution or appropriations bills until some mega-agreement is reached.
While the budget/debt ceiling talks continued and as they now shift gears, and in anticipation of future Senate action, advocacy communities continue to press their cases.
On Friday June 24, 2011, NSAC and advocacy groups representing a wide range of issues, including agriculture, the environment, and food security sent two letters to the President and to Congressional leadership amid fears of severe cuts to important federal agriculture programs.
The National Farmers Union and 22 other national organizations including NSAC sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairmen Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Thad Cochran (R-MI) emphasizing that the Committee should not limit mandatory farm bill funding through the appropriations process.
In response to the House Appropriations Bill that passed last week, which cut funding for USDA programs by over 13 percent, the letter urged the Senate appropriation leaders to ensure that discretionary funding for nutrition, food safety, rural development, renewable energy, conservation and agricultural research remains strong.
A separate letter was sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker Boehner, and Majority Leader Reid with the request that disproportionate funding cuts not be made to farm programs including conservation programs in the budget deal being negotiated by the White House and Congress. The Environmental Defense Fund, NSAC and nearly 25 other national conservation organizations signed-on to the letter.
The letter notes that disproportional cuts to farm programs could ultimately have a severe impact on programs that support conservation practices on working agricultural land or provide easements to protect natural resources.
As we reported previously, earlier in the week NSAC also was part of a 400 national and local group letter to budget negotiators spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy on the importance of conservation and natural resource funding in general across all federal agencies.