Congress Votes to Slash Conservation Spending, Extends FY 2012 Funding Levels
September 20th, 2012
The Senate voted (67-31) this morning to proceed to a vote to pass a 6-month continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at FY 2012 levels through March 27, 2013. The final vote will likely occur sometime this weekend, slowed down by several procedural moves related to votes on extraneous matters. It may take until Sunday, but the CR will surely pass.
The House passed the same bill last week.
As we reported in our earlier post, the CR puts all of the regular FY 2013 appropriations bills on hold until March (or sooner if Congress decides to act during the lame duck session after the elections) when Congress will either get to work on actually passing their bills or pass yet another CR.
With limited exceptions, the CR extends current 2012 levels of funding for discretionary programs with an across the board six-tenths of one percent increase.
In addition to problems stemming from the mechanistic discretionary program increase, the CR also impacts mandatory spending for a few select programs. The worst offense for agriculture is the bill’s treatment of mandatory conservation programs in general, and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in particular. By capping the program at 2012 levels, the CR effectively prevents USDA from abiding by the 2008 Farm Bill mandate to enroll 12.8 million acres in the program in FY 2013. While not as extreme as the CSP limit, the CR also reduces funding made available by the farm bill for other conservation programs.
The CR was also a big lost opportunity for dealing with farm bill programs that lose their authority to enroll new acres or provide new grants, including the conservation land retirement and easement programs as well as some specialty crop and nutrition programs. By not reaching a deal on a new farm bill or even a short term current farm bill extension, and by not including extensions of authorities in the CR, Congress has shut down significant farm bill programs until at least December, and conceivably much longer.
In our view, Congress must take action upon their return in November to eliminate the misguided CSP limitation and hopefully to pass a new farm bill, or if not, at least extend the temporarily missing program authorities as part of a farm bill extension or a final agricultural appropriations measure for FY 2013. Also in the mix we believe must be funding renewals for sustainable agriculture farm bill programs that lose their mandatory funding come September 30.
For more detailed information on the continuing resolution, read our earlier blog post.