Farm Bill Debate Starts with 2011 Funding Bill
April 1st, 2011
While most commentaries on the 2012 Farm Bill treat it, quite logically, as a coming attraction, in many key respects the battle is already joined. Understanding why that is the case requires some insight into the strange world of congressional budgeting.
The Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 appropriations bill that Congress and the Administration are trying to find common ground on before current funding expires next Friday will almost certainly reach beyond cuts to discretionary spending – the normal and proper purview of appropriations bills — and dip into mandatory funding too, even though mandatory spending is normally within the purview of authorizing committees.
In the agriculture portion of the government-wide bill the discussion of that dip into mandatory spending has focused on farm bill conservation programs. While theoretically the same discussion could take place with respect to food assistance, commodity subsidies, crop insurance, marketing assistance, energy programs, or other mandatory accounts under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committees, the primary focus in the current debate singles out farm conservation spending.
Any farm bill conservation program cuts made in the forthcoming bill to fund the government for the remaining second half of this fiscal year would not only impact the current year budget, reducing farmers opportunities to enroll in conservation programs this year, but would also have negative multi-year impacts as well. While those multi-year cuts are real, and will greatly diminish conservation assistance to farmers and communities in the future, they do not create savings that can be credited to the current appropriations bill and thus often get left out of the debate. But their impact is even greater than the upfront first year cut.
That is not the final story though. From there, it only gets worse. Whatever farm bill cuts are included in the FY 2011 appropriations bill will establish the new starting point for the FY 2012 appropriations bill Congress will debate this spring and summer. Any Farm Bill cuts in the FY 2012 appropriations bill, including any conservation cuts, not only have the same single year and multi-year impact noted above, but also have an even more serious decade-long impact, reducing the funding available to the Agriculture Committees and Congress as they consider the Farm Bill in 2012.
For instance, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the $585 million that President Obama proposes to cut from the conservation title of the 2008 Farm Bill for FY 2012 would translate into a $2.5 billion cut in conservation spending over the five years of the 2012 Farm Bill and a nearly $5 billion cut over next ten years. To put it in perspective, that cut is larger than the increase Congress made for conservation assistance in the 2008 Farm Bill.
NSAC believes these cuts proposed by the President are seriously misguided to begin with in the short term, but when you add the long-term impact to the equation they become even more dangerous, directly threatening the likelihood of Congress being able to pass a new Farm Bill.
With similar though slightly less extreme cuts contained in the House-passed FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1), and with the primary negotiations on a compromise final package taking place between the Administration that wants to cut conservation and the House Republican leadership that also has indicated in H.R. 1 they want to cut conservation, the situation is quite dire.
We encourage all parties interested in a successful 2012 Farm Bill to be involved now to stop the FY 2011 and FY 2012 appropriations bills from including cuts to direct farm bill spending. If cuts to the 2008 Farm Bill must be considered before we even get to the 2012 Farm Bill, they should be considered in the proper forum, the Agriculture Committees, they should be considered in the proper budgeting situation – multi-year not single year, all mandatory spending, not just conservation, should be on the table, and programs should be judged and assessed on the merits of their purpose and effectiveness in achieving public goods.