Post updated 2/15/11
Following a revolt by some of their rank and file on Thursday, House Republican leaders on Friday night released their draft bill to cut government funding for the remainder of the fiscal year that end September 3 by a significantly larger amount then they planned for earlier in the week. The bill would cut government spending by approximately $60 billion, a huge cut by any standard but one magnified by the challenge of trying to achieve it in just half a fiscal year.
The agriculture function would take an enormous $5.2 billion or 22 percent cut under the House GOP proposed bill. House Appropriation Committee savings tables by subcommittee functions can be viewed here. Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) statement can be read here.
The bill is expected on the House floor next week under a rule that will allow many amendments to be considered. Following a week-long congressional recess that follows, the Senate will then take up its version of the so-called “continuing resolution” (CR) with only a week left before the current short-term runs out. In all likelihood, the Senate will request a several week extension of the March 4 deadline in order to consider its bill and then go to conference with the House in an attempt to reach a consensus final bill.
Farm Bill Cuts
Not all of that $5.2 billion proposed cut to food and agriculture programs are represented by cuts to programs under the jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee. The bill also targets mandatory 2008 Farm Bill spending officially under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee, including cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Biomass Crop Assistance Program, among others. Cuts to just those four mandatory programs total over $500 million. By attacking farm bill direct spending nominally under the control of the Agriculture Committee, the Appropriations Committee was able to reduce cuts to spending under their direct control by the same amount.
NSAC strongly opposes the cuts to farm bill mandatory conservation and renewable energy programs. If Congress decides that deficit reduction requires farm bill spending to be on the table, then we strongly believe ALL farm bill spending should be on the table and that cuts should be fair and equitable and based on the merits. Singling out the 10 percent of farm bill spending represented by conservation and renewable energy spending to take all the cuts is grossly unfair. In our view, either everything is on the table, or nothing is on the table.
We also believe the appropriations bill is not the appropriate venue for making farm bill cuts. Such adjustments to the farm bill should be made by the Agriculture Committees and only in the context of a broad agreement to find savings in mandatory programs on a government-wide basis.
On the discretionary side of the agriculture budget, the proposed bill would eliminate (‘zero out’ in budget jargon) many important sustainable agriculture programs, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA), Organic Transitions research program, the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach (for minority and beginning farmers), the USDA Office of Tribal Relations, and Farm Service Agency Conservation Loans, among others. Also eliminated would be the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program, the regional Rural Development Centers, the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative, and the Hunger Free Communities program.
NSAC intends to work with Members of Congress to pursue amendments on the floor next week to restore funding to many of these important functions. It is unacceptable in our view to focus terminations on very modest programs for sustainable and organic agriculture, beginning and minority farmers, and initiatives to reduce pesticides and pathogens in food production. Funding cuts should be based on careful evaluation of the need for and effectiveness of programs, not simply aimed to chop out small programs that only just barely begin to level the playing field for chronically underserved parts of agriculture.
Among the big ticket items, feeding programs rank at the top, with the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program slashed by $747 million, Food for Peace by $687 million (all in the humanitarian donations part of the program), and the McGovern-Dole international school lunch program by over 50 percent or $109 million.
Mission areas and agencies would be cut by the following amounts under the terms of the bill:
- Rural development by $482 million;
- National Institute for Food and Agriculture cooperative research and extension by $217 million;
- Farm Service Agency by $190 million;
- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) federal research budget by $185 million;
- Natural Resources Conservation Service by $173 million;
- Food Safety and Inspection Service by $88 million; and
- Food and Drug Administration by $241 million.
In addition to these proposed cuts to Fiscal Year 2011 spending, the bill would direct USDA to rescind $824 million in prior year appropriations that remain unobligated. Of that total, $224 million would be in building construction funds for ARS research labs around the country, $15 million would be from rural broadband funds, and the rest would be up to the Secretary to select.
Farm Ownership and Operating Loans
Even with demand for farm financing running high heading into this year’s planting season, the bill proposes to cut direct farm operating loans by 10 percent or $100 million and direct farm ownership loans by 27 percent or $175 million. The majority of this direct lending is targeted to beginning farmers and ranchers and to minority resource farmers and ranchers, though during this recession and financial crisis, many others have also required direct loans. The bill would cut subsidized guaranteed operating loans by 15 percent or $26 million. All conservation loan funding for the year that was not already spent in the first half of the fiscal year would be eliminated.
NSAC opposed some of these same farm loan cuts when they were proposed by President Obama last February, and we continue to oppose them now. At a time when Secretary Vilsack has challenged the nation to find ways to increase new farming opportunities by 100,000, these cuts would serve to make that grand challenge only that much harder.
Farm Bill Conservation Programs
The bill proposes to limit Conservation Stewardship Program funding by $39 million. Since farmers signing up for the program in 2011 will not receive their first payments until Fiscal Year 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 by delaying contract payments. Reneging on contracts already in effect would truly represent government at its very worst. NSAC will work with Members of the House and Senate to eliminate this outlandish cut as the bill moves forward.
The Wetlands Reserve Program would be cut by 19 percent or nearly 48,000 acres and the cut would be permanent. In other words, the bill proposes to reduce the acreage level for the WRP enshrined int he 2008 Farm Bill by this amount, ensuring that those acres could not be enrolled in 2011 or in future years.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program would be cut by $350 million relative to the level provided in the 2008 Farm Bill. While EQIP historically has often been nicked in the appropriations process, this would be the largest single year cut ever.
For cooperative research and extension through the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service), so-called “formula funds” to land grant colleges and institutions for research and education would go up by $18 million relative to Fiscal Year 2010 under the proposed House bill. Formula funds for Cooperative Extension, on the other hand, would be cut by $30 million, to $268 million under the pending House bill.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) competitive grants program would be funded at the 2010 level of $19 million rather than at the $30 million level called for in President Obama’s budget request. The larger Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive program would be cut by 13 percent or $35 million to $228 million in the House bill.
Funding to actually run the agency (NIFA), however, would take a huge 75 percent cut in the pending bill, raising the pertinent question of how any of the programs would actually be managed and implemented with staff cuts of that magnitude.
Programs in the “integrated” category, meaning the combine research, education and extension in a single streamlined delivery system, take a particularly hard hit under the proposed bill. The water quality program gets shaved by 13 percent or $1.7 million, but many others would be terminated altogether, including the aforementioned Organic Transitions, Regional Rural Development Centers, and National Integrated Food Safety Initiative, as well as Food Quality Protection Act risk mitigation program, the methyl bromide transitions program, and international science and education grants.
Federal research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service would be cut by 10 percent of $115 million. Where precisely those cuts would come from are not detailed.
Initial Senate Response
In a response to the House proposal, Senate Appropriations Chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) said: “It is clear from this proposal that House Republicans are committed to pursuing an ineffective approach to deficit reduction that attempts to balance the budget on the back of domestic discretionary investments, which constitute only a small percentage of overall federal spending. The priorities identified in this proposal for some of the largest cuts—environmental protection, health care, energy, science, and law enforcement—are essential to the current and future well-being of our economy and communities across the country.”