December 22, 2010
Late on Tuesday, December 21, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) scheduled to expire on March 4, 2011, which will fund most federal government agencies at the level provided in their FY2010 Appropriations Bills. The Senate voted 79-16 on Sunday, December 19 to amend the House-passed CR (H.R. 3082). The amended CR then went to the House, which voted 193-165 to send the bill to the President’s desk. This extension will allow the new Republican-controlled House to rewrite all the appropriations bills for the last half of fiscal year 2011.
The CR, the fourth extension enacted since the first CR was passed by Congress on September 30, undoes the changes, both positive and negative, to sustainable agriculture priorities that were included an Omnibus Consolidate Appropriations bill offered by Senate Appropriations Chair Daniel Inouye on December 14. Unlike the Senate Omnibus Bill, the CR does not include an increase in funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (a catch-up $10 million increase that was long overdue). Thus, SARE will revert to level funding. Also contained in the Senate Omnibus but lost in the CR is a $26 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), first-time funding of $35 million for USDA to invest in a Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and explicit authority for USDA Rural Development programs to invest a portion of total funding in regional innovation.
On the other hand, the CR does not contain reductions in funding contained in the Omnibus Bill for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Funding for these programs resume at farm bill mandatory funding levels, except for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program which was cut by $270 million to $1.18 billion in the FY2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.
Until late last week, it appeared that there might well be sufficient Republican votes to pass the Senate’s Omnibus Appropriations bill. Retiring Republican Senators Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Kit Bond (R-MO) had been openly organizing another handful of Republican Senators to support the measure. The others were widely rumored to include Senators Cochran (MS), Murkowski (AK), Collins (ME), and Voinovich (OH), among others. However, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the bill on Thursday night when it became clear that no Republicans would vote for it.
Upon the expiration of the CR on March 4, 2011, the newly seated Congress will need to pass either an additional CR to extend FY2010 funding levels once again or an omnibus appropriations bill.
For more information on the content and history of this year’s appropriations bills, see our archive of agricultural appropriations posts here.