March 4, 2013
On Monday, March 4, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year (FY). The bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), would replace existing funding legislation, which expires on March 27.
As expected, the Chairman’s bill includes sequestration cuts, which would reduce discretionary spending by about 12 percent in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. The sequester officially began on March 1 after Congress failed to reach a deal to replace the across-the-board cuts. The bill also includes a 0.098 percent across-the-board cut to non-defense discretionary spending and a 0.109 percent cut to non-exempt defense spending accounts. The savings would be used in part to ramp up funding for military operations, veterans affairs, and other security spending.
On a brighter note, the CR would increase funding for direct farm operating loans and guaranteed farm ownership loans by roughly $200 million and $500 million, respectively. Farm loans, and in particular direct farm loans, are one of the most effective tools that USDA has to help beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers access farm land and equipment. Demand for direct farm operating loans has far exceeded supply for several years, so this funding increase is much needed. Unfortunately, no similar increase for the highly oversubscribed direct farm ownership loan program was included in the draft bill.
Conservation Stewardship Program
As we have mentioned elsewhere, the first FY 2013 CR unintentionally froze the largest of all USDA conservation programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), in FY 2013. This technical error, which could have been fixed in the Rogers bill, has prevented USDA from administering a CSP sign up this year. If funding is not restored as soon as possible, more than 9,000 producers will lose the opportunity to work with USDA to conserve and improve soil, water, and wildlife on their land. This will be a top priority for NSAC over the next three weeks as the bill heads to the House floor and then to the Senate.
Other Mandatory Farm Bill Spending
Annual appropriations bills are by law not supposed to address mandatory spending. That is the purview of the authorizing committees and the authorizing legislation, in the case of farm and food policy, the agriculture committees and the farm bill. Unfortunately, as has been the case for the last several years, the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill made severe cuts to mandatory conservation spending. The first six-month CR for FY 2013 extended these cuts.
This second six-month CR introduced by Chairman Rogers once again extends the cuts to mandatory spending included in the FY 2012 appropriations bill. This includes a $350 million cut for the remainder of the year to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, $35 million from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, $50 million from the Farmland Protection Program, and $5 million from the Agricultural Management Assistance Program, in addition to the cut that has shut down the Conservation Stewardship Program for 2013 altogether.
Later this week, probably on Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will vote to pass the Chairman’s bill. The full House is likely to vote on the CR that same day. Assuming it passes, this will leave the Senate with roughly three weeks to pass it’s own appropriations legislation, reconcile it with the House bill, and send it to the President’s desk before the current CR expires on March 27.
The Senate may yet attempt to pass a set of full appropriations bills, known as an omnibus package; or it could pass a modified CR that makes many more adjustments to update the bill to current realities.
You can read our blog post from March 1 for more information on the CR, sequestration, and what they mean for sustainable food and farming programs.