March 20, 2015
March 20 – This week the House and Senate Budget Committees each passed their Fiscal Year 2016 budget resolutions on party line votes.
Each Committee’s resolution will now go to the floor of the House and Senate for consideration. This will likely take place next week with final passage targeted for the end of the week.
Budget resolutions provide the blue print for the appropriations process that will take place in the coming months. They set binding top line spending caps for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
Budget resolutions may also include “budget reconciliation” instructions, which instruct certain Committees to meet specific deficit-reduction targets through reductions in mandatory spending. Only the House Budget Committee’s version contains reconciliation instructions to the Agriculture Committee (see more below).
Passage of each budget resolution was in doubt this week due the challenge that House and Senate leadership has in satisfying Republican defense and deficit hawks. The House had planned to add funding to the emergency Overseas Contingency Operations account (a defense account), but that plan was scrapped when it became clear that there were not enough votes. It is likely this funding will be added back in when the House Rules Committee sets the rules for floor consideration of the resolution.
The Senate Budge Committee had suspended consideration of its budget resolution on Wednesday because of tensions between Senators who want more military funding and those who want to balance the budget by 2025. However, the mark-up did take place Thursday. They addressed the military budget tensions by bumping up the defense budget to $89 billion from $51 billion in Fiscal Year 2016 with theoretical cuts in defense funding after 2021.
What About the Farm Bill?
Last week we previewed the strong indications around Capitol Hill that the 2014 Farm bill would face large cuts as part of the budget resolution’s reconciliation instructions. As it turned out, efforts like this letter from nearly 400 groups, including NSAC, opposing the reopening of the farm bill seemed to have had an effect.
The Senate Budget Resolution did not include any reconciliation instructions to the Agriculture Committee, and the House Budget Committee’s resolution contained a relatively small cut of $1 billion over 10 years. That amounts to 0.1% for total farm bill spending.
As the House budget resolution heads to the floor for consideration, NSAC released a statement encouraging the House to follow the Senate and remove its reconciliation instructions to the Agriculture Committee.
“We are pleased the draft Senate resolution contains no reconciliation instructions for the Agriculture Committee.” Said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director. He added, “We hope by the time the final resolution is crafted, the House will agree with the Senate to leave the farm bill alone in the budget resolution.”
What About Appropriations
Neither the House nor the Senate Budget Resolutions provide any increase in the budget caps for non-defense domestic spending in Fiscal Year 2016, which means that funding for agriculture will remain constrained.
Senator Murray (D-WA) offered an amendment during the Senate Budget Committee’s markup to increase the budget caps during the next two fiscal years by $74 billion each year, split evenly between defense and non-defense spending. That amendment failed on a party line vote 12-10.
One other quirk of both budget resolutions is that they assume increased defense spending in future years, which would be offset by large cuts in domestic spending. If this is going to actually occur, since the resolution is not binding for the out years, there would have to be major cuts to domestic spending, in the range of 10 percent for USDA. These draconian cuts could include cuts to mandatory farm bill programs such as Title I subsidy programs, food stamps (now known as SNAP), conservation, and specialty crop research.
NSAC will continue to follow the budget and appropriations process carefully, including hearings and floor action.
See our blog for recent coverage of House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearings.