Senate Omnibus Appropriations Bill Released
December 14th, 2010
(Updated Version — 12/15/10 — of Original Post)
The Senate Appropriations Committee released the long-awaited omnibus, government-wide appropriations bill the afternoon of December 14. The $1.1 trillion bill is a less than two percent increase over FY 2010, $26 billion less than what the Obama Administration requested in February, $18 billion more than the long-term continuing resolution (CR) the House passed last week, and exactly the same number as proposed by Senate Republicans prior to the November elections.
The bill is headed to a cloture vote in the Senate sometime later this week. The current short-term CR expires at midnight on Saturday, December 18. If final action does not occur by then, there will need to be another short-term CR to carry them through the weekend and into next week.
Senate Appropriations Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) predicts he has more than enough Senate Republican votes to reach cloture (60 votes required) and then pass the bill. House Democratic leaders are indicating that if the Senate approves the measure, the House will follow suit.
Just where the votes lie in the Senate, however, remains a matter of heated discussion. A number of long-time Republican appropriators have given indications they may support the measure, but final head counts remain unclear.
The Administration has favored passage of the slightly smaller House-passed CR. Meanwhile, some Republicans are still fighting for a third option – a short-term CR that expires early next year when they will control the House and can rewrite the entire government funding bill more to their liking.
Food Safety Riding the Coattails
Whichever option is ultimately chosen as the way forward on FY 2011 government spending, the food safety bill as passed by the Senate and very modestly amended by the House is expected to hitch a ride on the funding bill and become law whenever it is passed by both houses and signed by the President. By attaching the food safety bill to the must-pass government-wide appropriations bill, the House action to approve the Senate-passed food safety bill on this vehicle has greatly increased the chances of the bill becoming law.
Comparing the House and Senate Bills
While the House-passed long-term CR makes a significant number of funding changes relative to FY 2010 spending levels, it does so only for a small fraction of total line items. The Senate omnibus is a complete regular appropriations bill.
While the Senate bill spends more money in total, ironically it spends about $1 billion less on the USDA and FDA appropriations component than the House CR and than the FY 2010 spending level.
The largest of the increases in the Senate omnibus relative to the House CR are for the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security. Another significant philosophical difference between the two bills is the omnibus continues the long-standing practice of congressionally-directed funding or ‘earmarking’, though at significantly lower than historical levels.
Two factors in particular had a negative effect on the omnibus spending level for agriculture. First, some budgetary cushion for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) feeding program that might otherwise have been used as savings for the omnibus were instead used to offset the funding for the long-stalled Pigford civil rights settlement. Second, a large shortfall in Pell grants for low-income college students required each of the appropriations subcommittees to pitch in to cover the shortfall.
As a result, the Senate omnibus released today reduces a significant amount of mandatory spending. Changing mandatory spending levels, while technically not within the purview of appropriations, is a time-honored way to make up for shortages in discretionary spending accounts.
Mandatory Funding Changes
The omnibus would greatly reduce or perhaps eliminate spending for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) — more on that below. It would also rescind unobligated funding balances for Biorefinery Assistance program and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels to the tune of a combined $84 million. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is reduced by $276 million ($6 million more than under the House long-term CR) and the Wetlands Reserve Program is reduced by $6 million.
No changes to mandatory spending for FY 2011 is made for the vast majority of sustainable agriculture farm bill priority accounts, including beginning farmer and minority farmer grants, organic research, farmers markets, community food grants, Conservation Stewardship Program, and other conservation programs other than the two (EQIP and WRP) mentioned above. Farm bill specialty crop programs with mandatory spending are also left unscathed.
The BCAP situation is confusing. The program was estimated to spend $246 million in FY 2011. The omnibus assumes that USDA will spend $112 million on BCAP before the omnibus becomes law, and thus assumes the program is being reduced by $134 million. However, USDA has not spent any money on the program since the fiscal year began and asserts that it cannot spend any significant amount immediately. Hence the confusion. Discussion on December 15 pointed in the direction of a possible technical correction to cap the program at $112 million for FY 2011, consistent with the underlying assumptions that had been made. NSAC strongly supports such a technical correction and is advocating for it to be made.
Agriculture Discretionary Spending
As always, the biggest ticket item in the $22.125 billion Agriculture/FDA portion of the bill is the WIC program, funded at $6.85 billion, representing over 30 percent of the total discretionary funding. Also weighing in big is FDA funding, set at $2.54 billion, $37 million more than the President’s request and $195 million above 2010 levels. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service also receives increases above FY 2010 levels.
For the priority sustainable agriculture accounts, the bill includes:
- $30 million for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, an increase of $10.2 million, including $10 million first time funding for the federal-state matching grant program that has been authorized since 1990 but for which funds were requested for the first time by USDA in its FY 2011 Request to Congress; the increase is not included in the House CR.
- $5 million for Organic Transitions Research, the same amount as the House CR and the FY 2010 level.
- $2.8 million for the ATTRA sustainable agriculture information service program, the same amount as the House CR and the FY 2010 level.
- $288.7 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, a $26 million increase over FY 2010, and $20 million more than the House CR.
- $20.4 million for the Value-Added Producer Grants program, the same amount as the House CR and the FY 2010 level.
- $49.7 million in loan guarantees for Local and Regional Food Enterprise grants, the same amount as the House CR and the FY 2010 level.
- No cap on the $4 million in farm bill funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, but no increase above that amount, so $5 million less than FY 2010.
- $2 million for USDA’s Farm to School Tactical Teams, the same as the House CR and the FY 2010 level.
- Cuts to FSA direct farm ownership and farm operating loans, as proposed by the Administration, leaving the accounts a combined $375 million below the House CR and the FY 2010 program levels.
- $922.4 million for NRCS conservation operations, including technical assistance, an increase of $35 million over the House CR and FY 2010 levels.
The bill also includes two priorities of the Administration. The USDA portion of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to help finance retail food outlets in food deserts would receive $35 million, the same amount as in the House-passed CR. In addition,the Senate bill would also authorize USDA to spend up to 5 percent of eight different rural development accounts on regional innovation awards.
We will continue to monitor progress on the FY 2011 appropriations bill (and the food safety bill attached to it) for our readers. Once a final bill is enacted, we will also post a copy of our annual agricultural appropriations chart.