NSAC's Blog

Budget Deal in Sight?

March 31, 2011

According to Vice President Joe Biden, negotiations between the White House and House Republican leadership on Wednesday arrived at an agreement to reduce government spending for FY 2011 to $33 billion below the total for FY 2010 and $73 billion below what President Obama requested for FY 2011.

The new number is $3 billion more in cuts than the mid-point number some Democrats in Congress had seen as the ultimate compromise number.  Several expressed frustration at the White House strategy of giving more without actually securing a final deal.

The negotiations have not arrived at any decisions about what gets cut, at least none that have been made public.

The House-passed Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the government for the remaining half of FY 2011 would cut $61 billion below FY 2010 levels, while the two short term Continuing Resolutions agreed to by all sides has already cut $10 billion.  Hence, if the deal for $33 billion remains in place, the negotiators need to come up with an additional $23 billion in cuts.

The White House has signaled several times that its preferred plan will include significant cuts to mandatory programs.  Mandatory funding is generally not part of appropriations bill that, in theory at least, deal solely with discretionary spending.  The Administration has not provided many clues about which mandatory programs they would put on the chopping block.

With respect to farm bill mandatory spending, President Obama has proposed significant cuts to mandatory farm bill conservation and natural resource programs in each of the budget proposals he has submitted during the course of his administration.  He has also proposed cuts to farm bill commodity programs, but unlike the proposed conservation cuts there have been no actual legislative proposals.

The current short term Continuing Resolution expires on April 8.  In order for both houses of Congress to consider and pass the six-month appropriations measure next week prior to the April 8 deadline, the key ingredients of the bill must be agreed to by Friday or at least by this weekend.

Also at issue are the large number of legislative riders attached to H.R. 1.  In the same way that appropriations bills are not the appropriate vehicle for cuts or increases to mandatory spending, they are also not the appropriate vehicle for making policy decisions that contravene other laws.  The practice of “legislating on appropriations” is generally outside the bounds of appropriations bills, but the new House majority is nonetheless flexing its muscles on health care, abortion, environmental protection laws, and a wide variety of other topics in the context of this must-pass funding bill.

Already cut as part of the $10 billion in cuts agreed to in the short term Continuing Resolutions are very significant reductions in agricultural research and rural development.  Though small in size at less than $3 million, one of the most egregious cuts already passed and signed into law is the elimination of funding for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service or ATTRA program.

The program was mistakenly put on a list of congressional earmarks.  Congress and the White House have agreed there will be no earmarks in the FY 2011 funding bills.  ATTRA however meets none of the tests for what constitutes an earmark.  It is a national program, authorized by law in the Farm Bill, requested by the administration, serving farmers and ranchers and extension throughout the entire country, and operated by the Rural Development section of USDA precisely according to law.  Hopefully, Congress and the Administration will rectify their mistake and restore funding for the program in the forthcoming long-term bill for the rest of FY 2011.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations

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