NSAC's Blog

Congress Releases Draft 6-Month Continuing Resolution

April 12, 2011

In the early morning of Tuesday, April 12, Congress released a draft of the 6-month continuing resolution (CR), agreed to by House and Senate Democrats and Republicans late last night.

The CR would cut $42 billion relative to FY 2010 levels for non-defense spending, but couples that with a $4 billion increase in defense spending, for a net decrease of approximately $38 billion.  Of that $38 billion, $12 billion was already enacted via three preceding short-term continuing resolutions over the past five weeks, including a $2 billion cut enacted on April 8 in the form of a one-week CR.  The latest CR also includes an across-the-board cut of 0.2 percent to all non-defense discretionary accounts.

The CR is almost certain to pass through the both the House and Senate later this week, and is expected to be signed by the President shortly thereafter.  It would fund the government for remainder of the fiscal year (FY).

Overall, the CR cuts agriculture spending by $3 billion relative to FY 2010 levels.  The bill reduces credit program funding by $433 million, Agricultural Research Service funding by $64 million, and National Institute for Food and Agriculture funding by $126 million relative to FY 2010.  Click here for a summary of program cuts from the House Appropriations Committee (but be forewarned the chart has some errors).

Many of the cuts contained in H.R. 1 – an earlier CR passed by the House but rejected by the Senate – are also contained in today’s bill.

As with H.R. 1, USDA conservation programs would take a massive cut of more than $500 million in the final appropriations bill for the remainder of FY 2011.  The bill proposes to cut funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), USDA’s premier working lands program, by $39 million.  Since farmers signing up for the program in 2011 will not receive their first payments until FY 2012, this proposed cutback would actually force the government to break the terms of the five-year contracts already signed with farmers in 2009 and 2010 and attempt to get payments back.  Reneging on contracts already in effect truly represents government at its very worst.  NSAC will advise CSP farmers to appeal any adverse action.

Beyond CSP, the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) would be cut by 19 percent or nearly 48,000 acres, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) would be cut by $350 million relative to the level provided in the 2008 Farm Bill.  Historically, EQIP has often been nicked in the appropriations process; however, this would be the largest single year cut ever.  The result will be less conservation on the land even as production pressures mount, plus an even bigger backlog and waiting list of farmers trying to enroll but unable to participate due to funding cutbacks.

The CR would also cut the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) by $134 million to $112 million.

Fortunately, while H.R. 1 proposed to permanently rescind 48,000 WRP acres, meaning that we would never get those acres back, the latest CR proposes only a single year cut.  Even though these acres will pop back up next year, it is important to remember that the fight to save WRP is far from over, as the program has no baseline funding going into the next Farm Bill.

No other mandatory spending from the 2008 Farm Bill is given the same rough treatment as conservation – only conservation and renewable energy are targeted in the CR.  In our view, if there are to be any changes to mandatory spending, it should be taken up in the Farm Bill process, or in a budget process in which all mandatory Farm Bill spending is on the table.

On the discretionary side of the agriculture budget, the bill would cut the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Operations budget by more than $15 million, from nearly $888 million to just over $872 million.

A number of programs would be eliminated completely, including the Resource Conservation and Development Program (RC&D) as well as the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, also known as ATTRA.  Funding for ATTRA – a modest $2.8 million – was cut entirely in H.R. 1, then again in a three-week CR passed in March, and the cut was reiterated once more in the latest 6-month CR.

The justification for cutting ATTRA appears to be a misperception that it is an earmark.  Indeed, like earmarks, many Senators and Members of Congress request funding for ATTRA every year, as they do for many programs.  However, unlike earmarks for projects in specific congressional districts, ATTRA is a nationwide program, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, and it has been included in presidential budgets through many administrations over several decades.  As provided in the Farm Bill, it is funded through a cooperative agreement between USDA and a national non-profit organization with expertise in sustainable agriculture and information delivery.  NSAC strongly objects to cutting this exemplary program that for over 20 years has provided important research-based information to people nationwide annually, many of whom have no other reliable source of information.  Click here to read our earlier post on the elimination of this program.

In addition to defunding ATTRA and RC&D, the bill makes several deep cuts to farm credit programs, including the elimination of both direct and guaranteed conservation loans.  The bill would slash direct farm ownership loans by $175 million and direct operating loans by $50 million.  Most direct loans are targeted to beginning farmers and minority farmers and provide a crucial source of capital for farmers not served by commercial credit.  The proposed cuts would make it all the more difficult to support stewardship and foster the next generation of farmers.

While H.R. 1 would have eliminated both the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach and the Office of Tribal Relations, the latest CR proposes to cut the former by 16 percent and the latter by 50 percent.

Finally, the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) was hit hard in the latest CR.  The bill would cut NIFA research and education programs by $88 million, extension by $15 million, and integrated activities by $23 million.  The cut to integrated activities includes a 29 percent cut to its water quality component, a 25 percent cut to food safety, a 20 percent cut to the Organic Transitions research program, and a 27 percent cut to regional pest management centers.

Congress is expected to vote on and pass the 6-month continuing resolution later this week.  We will continue to update you as the process unfolds.  We will be posting our final FY 2011 agriculture appropriations chart tomorrow.

Also this week, we expect President Obama to reveal a revised 10-year budget plan  as an alternative to Paul Ryan’s 2012 Budget Resolution, which was introduced to the House last week and will be voted on by the full House on Thursday.  Still no specific word on when Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) will release the Senate counterpart to the House budget resolution.  Click here for a summary of the 2012 budget resolution process thus far.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Farm Bill, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development

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