On Thursday, June 16, the House of Representatives passed its fiscal year (FY) 2012 agriculture appropriations bill by a 217-203 vote, with all Democrats and 19 Republicans voting no.
The bill cuts nearly $3 billion in discretionary (annually appropriated) funds for USDA and FDA, a cut of nearly 14 percent. Combined with the cuts already made in the FY 2011 continuing resolution enacted into law earlier this year, the House bill proposes to cut food and agricultural discretionary spending by 25 percent. The House-passed bill also cuts mandatory Farm Bill conservation spending by $1 billion (on top of a $500 million cut in the FY 2011 bill) and total mandatory funding by nearly $2 billion, all of this before Congress even begins to take up the 2012 Farm Bill.
The Senate has not started its budget and appropriations process for FY 2012, preferring to wait for the budget/debt ceiling negotiations between Vice President Biden and six congressional leaders to first run its course. That group met several times this week and plans to meet three more times next week in the hopes of reaching a deal by July 1, the start of the July 4 congressional recess.
If that deal is reached, it is expected to establish a discretionary spending cap for 2012 that would be at least somewhat higher than the numbers the House passed in its appropriations bill. If so, that might allow the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee more leeway than its House counterparts had, though substantial cuts are still expected. The Biden group also appears on the verge of recommending Farm Bill mandatory spending cuts of nearly $3.5 billion a year over the next decade.
The House began consideration of the agriculture appropriations bill on Tuesday, June 14. The bill is an amended version of the bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee on May 31, which itself is an amended version of the FY 2012 bill reported out of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on May 24.
Much of the opening debate on the bill centered on the bill’s $685 million cut to the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) feeding program, by far the largest program in the bill. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the this cut could remove between 200,000 and 350,000 women and children from the program next year. Amendments made by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to restore funding were unsuccessful. The bill also cuts international food aid.
The House overturned by procedural motions four amendments that had been approved by the Appropriations Committee, including:
- An amendment won in Committee by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to reduce direct payments to US cotton producers by $147 million to offset the cost of US payments to Brazilian cotton interests mandated under a world trade settlement.
- Another Flake amendment would have limited eligibility for farm commodity payments to individuals and entities with annual adjusted gross incomes of less than $250,000 ($500,000 for most married couples, and higher for individuals with multiple business entities).
- An amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro to use the money due to Brazilian cotton interests in 2012 to help fill a gap in the WIC feeding program, which was cut by over $800 million.
- An amendment by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) to require that all decisions made by the Food and Drug Administration be based on what he called “hard science.”
In response to amendments aimed at limiting mandatory Farm Bill spending, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, respectively, argued repeatedly that the Appropriations Committee should not be cutting direct Farm Bill funding under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee, which includes the more than $1 billion in farm bill conservation program cuts.
While Rep. Flake’s original amendments were defeated through procedural measures, modified versions of a number of his proposals were successfully introduced in partnership with Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), which were deemed in order by the Parliamentarian.
- The House passed a Kind amendment that would prohibit the use of funds for payments to the Brazil Cotton Institute under a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance obligation.
- The House passed a Flake amendment to prohibit USDA from using FY 2012 appropriations funds for the construction of ethanol blender pumps or ethanol storage facilities – a response in part to a USDA announcement that it will use money from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to fund the construction of ethanol blender pumps at gas stations around the country.
- The House rejected a Flake amendment to limit eligibility for commodity programs to producers with annual adjusted gross incomes lower than $250,000.
- The House also rejected a Flake amendment to prohibit the use of funds to implement the Market Access Program.
- Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) offered an amendment to disallow Title 1 commodity payments to individuals and entities in excess of $125,000/farm. This amendment also failed.
The House vote in favor of a ban on using USDA funds to subsidize blender pumps and ethanol storage facilities is notable in that the Senate defeated a similar measure on a different bill on the same day. The Senate also voted to end the ethanol tax credit and tariff as we explain in a separate post.
In addition to Rep. Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), three representatives in particular spoke out against the $1 billion in cuts to Farm Bill conservation programs contained in the bill. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sam Farr (D-CA) engaged in a colloquy in opposition to the cuts to mandatory conservation programs, noting that many of these programs have long waiting lists of farmers and ranchers who want to implement conservation practices on their land. Farr and Blumenauer pointed out that, due to the size and timing of the proposed cut to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), USDA would be forced to break or modify existing government contracts with producers. This would truly represent government at its very worst. The Representatives argued that as the appropriations process moves forward these cuts to conservation programs should be restored.
Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA) offered an amendment to refund the cuts to mandatory conservation programs in the bill as well. In order to do so, the Holden amendment would have applied a 5.88 percent across-the-board cut to all discretionary programs within the bill. That offset doomed the amendment, but Holden used the opportunity to call for a shared sacrifice, noting that conservation has taken a disproportionate share of the cuts to mandatory programs. A number of members rose in support of the amendment, using the opportunity to express their opposition to the cuts.
Local and Regional Farm and Food Systems
As we noted in a post last week, the Appropriations Committee Report that accompanies the FY 2012 appropriations bill is chock full of complaints and restrictions on USDA efforts to grow farm income and rural jobs by supporting the growth of local and regional food markets. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) offered an amendment seeking to prevent that naysaying language from taking effect. Unfortunately, the House defeated the measure 170-238.
Shortly after voting down the Pingree amendment, the House passed an amendment by a 212-201 vote, which was offered by Virginia Foxx (R-NC) to strip all FY 2012 funding for USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative. This was a misguided attack by Rep. Foxx and others on the farming opportunities, economic growth, and job creation generated by the rising farmer interest and private sector investment in local and regional food systems. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative does not have its own budget. Rather, it coordinates various programs and activities across multiple USDA agencies that work with farmers and ranchers producing for local and regional markets.
If it becomes law, this ideologically-driven, job-killing amendment will alienate small and mid-sized farmers and food business entrepreneurs and stifle USDA work with one of the faster growing segments of agriculture. It was particularly upsetting to see House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) vote against the Pingree amendment and for the Foxx amendment. It was heartening, however, that two Agriculture Committee Republicans voted for the Pingree amendment and five voted against the Foxx amendment.
Fair Livestock and Poultry Markets
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) spoke out against a measure in the bill that would prevent USDA from issuing the livestock marketplace fair competition rule, also known as the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule, which USDA issued in response to directives from Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill. The House bill would curtail USDA’s effort to increase fairness to farmers and ranchers in the marketplace for poultry, hogs and cattle. The Kaptur speech is linked at her website and an excerpt from her statement is reprinted here.
Instead of allowing the agency to do its job, Congress, in an uneven-handed way, has allowed itself to become captured by the consolidated meat industry. And while ranchers, farmers and producers are increasingly being squeezed out of the markets, and small, local slaughterhouses continue to close, large consolidated players manipulate the rules to favor their own business operations, and meat prices rise. Congress simply can’t stand by silent. So on behalf of the millions of farmers, ranchers and producers that struggle every day to survive as they face the gargantuan task of competing against monopolistic entities, I oppose the base language in 721.
Rep. Kaptur submitted two letters for the record, both in support of the GIPSA rule and against congressional interference in the rulemaking process. The first letter was delivered by NSAC and 139 other organizations in late April, and the second letter was delivered more recently by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Following the colloquy by Reps. Kaptur and Lummis, Rep. Farr submitted for the record the Obama Administration’s Statement of Administrative Purpose, which also opposes the provision to prevent USDA from finalizing the GIPSA rule.
Bad Start for Food Safety Law Implementation
When Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act last December they were authorizing an over $1 billion increase in funding for the FDA to implement the new law. However, the FY 2011 appropriations included a decrease in FDA funding and the House bill for 2012 would now propose to chip away another $87 million. In defending the cut, Agriculture Appropriations Chair Jack Kingston (R-GA) said the food supply is 99.99 percent safe and major food corporations will ensure it stays that way. An amendment offered by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) to restore some of the funding failed.
Climate Denying in the Extreme
The House passed an amendment by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) on a mostly party-line 238-179 vote to prohibit the use of funds to implement USDA’s “Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation.” This statement is not a regulation but rather simply a planning document for USDA to examine how climate change might affect its operations and the farmers, foresters, and other landowners it serves. The amendment would block USDA from conducting even this basic assessment.
Late on Wednesday night, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) offered an amendment that would prohibit the use of any FY 2012 funds to pay out claims made in the Pigford II settlement. The House passed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 in November of last year. The Act authorized nearly $4.6 billion to fund the settlements in two class-action discrimination lawsuits, including the Pigford settlement, which would give $1.15 billion to black farmers who were discriminated against by USDA in the 1980s and 1990s. NSAC worked hard to ensure that the Claims Resolution Act was passed, and is glad to report that this amendment failed.
Successful Positive Amendments
There were a few small successful amendments we supported that successfully passed in floor votes. The House overwhelmingly passed an amendment offered by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, to shift $300,000 from a building and facilities account to the Organic Data Initiative (ODI). The money would be used by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to collect and distribute price data to support markets, create risk management tools, and negotiate equivalency agreements with foreign governments.
Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Tim Walz (D-MN) offered an amendment to transfer $1 million from the Office of the Chief Information Officer to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The program was zeroed out in the original draft of the agriculture appropriations bill and $1.3 million was added by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) in the full Appropriations Committee. The House passed the Fortenberry-Walz amendment. Total FY 2012 funding for REAP, a program that received $75 million in FY 2011, now stands at a mere $2.3 million, though with the Senate has yet to speak on the matter.
NSAC posted an analysis of the deep and extensive cuts to conservation, rural development, research, and local and regional food system development programs when the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee first released a draft of its bill.
While the House has now passed its bill, the Senate must still develop and pass its own funding bill, those two bills must be reconciled, and the President must sign off on the final package. Senate action is being delayed until there is an overarching budget deal on both discretionary and mandatory funding and tax revenues. Discussions between both parties and both houses with Vice President Biden continue, with less than two months left now before the U.S. government would begin to default on its financial obligations absent an increase in the debt ceiling.