March 13, 2013
Late on Monday, March 11, the Senate released appropriations legislation to keep the government running through the remainder of fiscal year 2013. Recall that the House passed its own FY 2013 legislation last week.
The Senate bill provides a total of $20.532 billion in discretionary agriculture spending, inclusive of a 2.513 percent “across-the-board” cut. Even with the cut, total spending is $1 billion higher than the FY 2012 spending level. The biggest chunk of that $1 billion goes to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and to the Food and Drug Administration for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, though other increases relative to the FY 2012 bills are scattered throughout the bill.
Like the House funding bill, the Senate bill incorporates sequestration cuts; but unlike the House bill, which used FY 2012 funding levels as the starting point for further cuts, the Senate bill starts with the FY 2013 funding levels that leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees had agreed upon late last year. This means that some programs – those that received substantial funding increases in last year’s negotiated but unfinished funding bill – fared quite well in the Senate bill. Because of the additional 2.513 percent across-the-board cut in the Senate versus an additional 0.998 percent cut in the House, however, the Senate bill provides less money than the House bill for programs that were otherwise funded at or near FY 2012 levels.
For a full program-by-program breakdown of funding in the Senate and House FY 2013 funding bills, download our updated FY 2013 appropriations chart.
We are thrilled to report that the Senate bill fixes the technical error that has thus far prevented USDA from conducting a FY 2013 sign up for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This small fix to CSP in the appropriations bill is the equivalent of $1 billion in farm bill conservation spending. The fix comes right at the last minute for USDA to have a chance to implement the program yet this year.
The Not So Good
The House appropriations bill from last week increased funding for direct farm operating loans and guaranteed farm ownership loans by roughly $200 million and $500 million, respectively. Unfortunately, the Senate bill does not do the same. In fact, the Senate bill would decrease funding levels for direct and guaranteed ownership and operating loans.
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 exceeded supply for several years. Neither bill provides a funding increase for the even more highly oversubscribed direct farm ownership loan program. We are hopeful that the final negotiated bill will increase funding for both direct farm operating and direct farm ownership loans.
The Very Ugly
Unfortunately, the Senate bill also includes a harmful legislative rider that overrides the farm bill and denies poultry and livestock producers protection under the Packers and Stockyards Act. This is an affront to justice and fairness for farmers and is an unfortunate example of legislating on an appropriations bill on behalf of a very few powerful corporations. The Senate bill includes not only existing rider language from the FY 2012 appropriations bill that limits USDA’s ability to further implement the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) contract fairness rule; it also contains extremist language that forces USDA to rescind existing pieces of the GIPSA final rule that USDA began to implement late last year. That unprecedented language was included in the initial FY 2013 House Agriculture Appropriations bill last year, but was not included in the appropriations bill that the House passed last week. The additional rider language is disastrous for producers and sets a terrible precedent for future appropriations bills.
The bill also includes a legislative rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of biotech crops. Essentially, the rider would permit USDA to allow for the continued planting of genetically engineered crops that a court has halted.
Finally, we are disappointed that the Senate’s FY 2013 appropriations bill does not address the programs left stranded by the farm bill extension. These programs for beginning, minority, organic, specialty crop, and local food farmers; renewable energy; and economic development have at this point zero funding for 2013. Entire sectors of agriculture are being told they do not count, and the innovation and job-creating potential of these programs is being lost while direct production subsidies are being provided despite high commodity prices and farm income. Congress still has the opportunity to provide mandatory funding for these stranded programs as the appropriations bill moves forward on the Senate floor and in discussions with the House, though time is running out.
The Senate is expected to consider several amendments on Thursday; however, we do not know how many amendments will be allowed. A vote on the bill is expected shortly thereafter. The Senate will then send the bill to the House for consideration early next week. We expect that the final FY 2013 appropriations legislation will be finalized by the end of next week.
A final FY 2013 appropriations bill that supports farmers, ranchers, consumers, and the environment will:
We will continue to report on Senate and House consideration as the FY 2013 appropriations process wraps up this week and next. For additional information, you can download our updated appropriations chart or read our earlier post on last week’s House bill.