March 15, 2011
On Tuesday, March 15, the House Committee on Agriculture adopted a letter to the House Committee on the Budget containing recommendations for the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget cycle. The Agriculture Committee’s recommendations focus on (1) oversight of regulations affecting jobs and the economies of rural communities, and (2) preparations for the 2012 farm bill.
In its letter, the Committee notes Farm bill preparation will be conducted via an audit or inventory of all policies under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction, including nutrition, commodities, conservation, crop insurance, trade promotion, rural development, credit, research, forestry, and energy. Groups affected by these policies will be able to attend hearings in the field and in Washington to create the framework for the Committee’s decisions on programs to prioritize, consolidate and eliminate.
The committee suggests investment in agriculture is critical now to meet the needs of a growing global population as well as streamline programs to make them more efficient. The Committee claims they plan “aggressive” oversight of potential environmental rules – including those dealing with Atrazine, spray drift, and dust regulation – that may negatively impact production agriculture, communities and businesses.
Recent Cuts to Agriculture
The committee emphasized recent cuts to subsidies for crop insurance companies that reduced the agriculture baseline budget by $6 billion and will continue to provide savings. Savings will be greater than originally estimated due to apparent record crop insurance sales occurring now for the upcoming spring crop season. The committee encouraged the Budget Committee to consider these cuts and savings as budget reconciliation or reductions are discussed.
Ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN) re-stated the depth of previous cuts shouldered by agriculture and underscored the need for all committees to share the burden of the current budget reality. He stated, “I am not willing to let this committee carry a disproportionate amount of budget cuts.”
Additionally the committee noted the substantial cuts to mandatory spending from conservation, rural development, trade, research, and energy policies from 2003-2010 totaling $7.5 billion should also be taken into account. These cuts occurred via limitations on mandatory spending adopted as part of agricultural appropriations bills. Peterson emphasized that if all committees had suffered cuts comparable to agriculture, the deficit would be reduced by more than $3 trillion.
With respect to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps, the Committee notes that spending has tripled over the last 10 years, with the program now serving 44.3 million people and constituting 74% of the USDA budget. Some of this spending has come from a temporary benefits increase included in the stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The Committee letter notes that nearly $14.5 billion in this added funding was cut by Congress last year as it sought ways to pay for education, Medicaid, and child nutrition legislation. The Committee punts on the questions of whether this stimulus-related spending, which is set to end in 2013, should continue, opting to say it should be reviewed as to whether it should continue or “should go toward deficit reduction.”
Overall, the committee recommends maintaining strong agricultural economic policies to hedge against the cyclical nature of prices and to serve as a catalyst for economic growth, using the current budget situation as an opportunity to make agriculture programs more efficient.