June 1, 2011
On Tuesday, May 31, the full House Appropriations Committee passed its fiscal year (FY) 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, which was first passed by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee last week.
If it were to become law, this bill would make truly massive cuts to conservation, extension, research, renewable energy, and rural development programs.
A number of amendments were offered during markup, some of which passed and thus became part of the larger agriculture appropriations bill. An amendment offered by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) would restore $1.2 million to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which the bill had zeroed out. The program was funded at $99 million in FY2010 and $75 million in FY2011.
Rep. Kaptur also offered a symbolic amendment, which she subsequently withdrew, in opposition to bill language that would strip the USDA of its ability to implement its Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed rule on livestock market competition, a rulemaking required by the 2008 Farm Bill. Speaking in support of the proposed rule, Kaptur referred to a new letter delivered to Congress yesterday from the American Farm Bureau Federation in support of the rule. Earlier in May, NSAC joined 160 farm and rural organizations, including National Farmers Union, R-CALF, National Family Farm Coalition, Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform, and others, on a letter in support of the rule.
Two amendments passed in relation to USDA payments to Brazilian cotton farmers as part of a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance agreement. One amendment, offered by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), would force the $143 million a year in payments to be paid for out of direct payments to U.S. cotton farmers beginning in 2013. The other, offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), uses the money due to Brazil in 2012 to help fill a gap in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) feeding program, which was cut by over $800 million in the underlying bill.
Rep. Flake also offered an amendment to change eligibility requirements for agricultural producers who receive direct commodity payments. The amendment, which was declared as passed by voice vote, states that to be eligible to receive any commodity program benefits, the annual adjusted gross income (AGI) for an individual or entity cannot exceed $250,000 (or $500,000 for married couple in most instances). The current AGI cap for non-farmers (with respect to all commodity program benefits) is $500,000 ($1 million if married), and the current AGI cap for farmers (which currently applies to direct payments only) is $750,000 ($1.5 million if married). The savings was put toward deficit reduction.
More than 50 organizations delivered a letter to members of the House Appropriations Committee in opposition to the $1 billion in cuts to farm bill conservation programs contained in the bill. Unfortunately, as was the case during Subcommittee markup, not a single legislator spoke up against these enormous cuts. Major attention in the markup was directed at nutrition programs, drug safety, and PL 480 food aid.
A second letter also signed by NSAC and 46 other organizations including the American Society for Horticultural Science, Organic Farming Research Foundation, and Environmental and Energy Study Institute was delivered in opposition to an amendment that ultimately was not offered that would have eliminated all funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, Specialty Crop Research Initiative, and the Biomass R&D program, placing the resulting savings into larger formula funds for land grant universities. We will continue to oppose this amendment should the land grant lobby try again when the bill goes to the full House.
The agriculture appropriations bill will now go to the full House for a vote. Meanwhile, the Senate must also develop and pass its own funding bill, those two bills must be reconciled, and the President must sign off on the final package. Senate action will likely be delayed until there is an overarching budget deal on both discretionary and mandatory funding and tax revenues. Discussions between both parties and both houses with Vice President Biden continue, with just two months left now before the U.S. government would begin to default on its financial obligations absent an increase in the debt ceiling.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Competition & Anti-trust, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Local & Regional Food Systems, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development