September 16, 2011
House Continuing Resolution
With the end of the fiscal year approaching quickly, Republicans in the House of Representatives intend to vote next week on a two-month “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government funded through November 18.
Congress has yet to pass any of the twelve appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2012, which begins on October 1. While Congress could use the extra two months to try to pass each of the twelve bills individually, they are far more likely to put together a single omnibus appropriations package that contains funding for all federally appropriated programs for FY 2012. The timing of the House CR is set in hopes Congress can finish and pass the omnibus appropriations package by the last day before the Thanksgiving recess, and then, between Thanksgiving and Christmas turn to the budget proposal of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (see below).
The two-month CR, as proposed by the House, would apply a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut to discretionary programs, including rural development, research, nutrition, and some conservation programs. That cut would, for instance, take $300,000 from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, $4 million from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), $7 million from Direct Farm Ownership loans, $14.25 million from Direct Operating Loans, and $13 million from conservation technical assistance.
Along with funding transfers, the savings would be used to fund a $3.65 billion increase in disaster aid spending for FEMA and other agencies to deal with the damage from tornados, floods, and other disasters that struck this year.
While the Senate has not yet released its own CR, it did pass a stand-alone disaster relief bill yesterday to fund relief efforts at $6.9 billion in FY 2012. Unlike the House CR, the Senate disaster bill does not include offsets from other programs. Traditionally, emergency disaster aid has not required offsets, but that issue has become very contentious in the last few years.
The two disaster figures and the issue of offsets or no offsets will have to be reconciled in the final CR. Congress hopes to have the CR wrapped up by the end of this coming week, after which both the House and Senate are scheduled to have a week away from Washington. With October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, looming, some or all of that week long recess will be cancelled if the CR issues are not resolved by Friday, September 23.
Senate Floor Action on Agriculture Appropriations
As we previously reported, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its fiscal year (FY) 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill by voice vote on Wednesday, September 7. The full Senate is preparing to consider the bill in early October.
The Senate bill cuts farm bill mandatory conservation programs by 12 percent, or $742 million, on top of the half billion dollar cut contained in the FY 2011 agriculture appropriations bill. The House bill, which the House passed earlier this year, cut over $1 billion from farm bill mandatory conservation spending.
Senator Harkin (D-IA) has expressed his desire for a floor debate on the unfairness of slicing so much from farm bill conservation spending when the appropriations bill does not touch any of the other bigger mandatory farm program spending items.
Budget Super Committee
The special congressional committee tasked with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts by November 23 met for the first time this week.
The 12 members met behind closed doors, presumably to discuss where and how to find the savings. The group’s next meeting will be on September 22, and will focus on tax reform and revenues.
The Committee has been bombarded with requests. In addition to President Obama’s push for consideration of a significant jobs package to the bill, the Committee this week has heard from House Speaker John Boehner asking for substantial tax reform to be added into the Committee’s work product and from a group of Senators urging the Committee to “go big” and find a combination of cuts and tax measures that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion instead of $1.2 trillion over the next years. There will no doubt be many more words of advice from other quarters in coming days and weeks.
NSAC will be delivering a set of recommendations to the special committee next week to ensure that any farm bill funding decisions made do not undermine sustainable agriculture policies and programs.