March 30, 2012
On Thursday, March 29, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held its first hearing on USDA’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request. The Subcommittee will consider USDA’s requests as it writes its funding bill for the year.
Individual funding requests by Senators and outside groups were also due yesterday. You can download and read our FY 2013 appropriations testimony on our annual appropriations webpage.
Six Senators attended the hearing yesterday – Chairman of the Subcommittee Herb Kohl (D-WI), Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack began his testimony by discussing the importance of USDA programs to promoting rural development, ensuring access to adequate credit, providing necessary conservation technical assistance, conserving critical natural resources, and supporting the rapid expansion of local and regional food systems.
In response to a question for Senator Sherrod Brown about the closure of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities, Secretary Vilsack suggested that USDA and Congress look into ways to allow for the transfer of land from USDA to beginning farmers that are looking to acquire land. This is not currently part of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA), but is a very interesting idea that we hope will be developed further by USDA.
Toward the end of the hearing, Senator Hoeven and Secretary Vilsack discussed the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Senator’s and Secretary’s interest in using REAP money to subsidize oil and gas companies to install ethanol blender pumps at gas stations. Despite USDA’s own decision to obligate $4.3 million in REAP funding to 65 REAP projects for blender pumps in FY 2011, Vilsack pointed out that the House included a prohibition on federal subsidies for ethanol blender pumps and infrastructure in its FY 2012 appropriations bill. This particular use of the program was also discussed and explicitly rejected in the conference committee to finalize the 2008 Farm Bill. NSAC opposes this new unauthorized use of the REAP program.
Conservation Funding Letter
On Friday, March 30, 19 Senators wrote to the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee urging full funding for the farm bill conservation programs. In recent years, the appropriations bill has used backdoor methods to cut mandatory farm bill funding for conservation to the tune of $1.5 billion in just the last two years. The letter aims to reverse that trend, noting big environmental challenges, high farmer demand, and economic growth and job opportunities.
Led by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Chris Coons (D-DE), the letter was also signed by former Agriculture Committee chairmen Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) as well as Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) from the majority leadership.
Two Houses Divided
With the adoption of a budget resolution this week in the House of Representative, passed with only Republican votes, the two houses of Congress are setting off to work on their respective appropriations bills for the year with different assumptions about the amount of money they have to work with. The Senate subcommittees will be working with the funding levels agreed to last summer in a bipartisan, bicameral agreement between the House, Senate, and White House. The House subcommittees, however, will be working from a new funding cap $19 billion lower than what was agreed to and adopted into law through the Budget Control Act.
This difference very likely ensures another few weeks or month of high drama in September and then again in December, when Congress tries to reach a final agreement first on a continuing resolution keeping the government funded past the September 30 end of the fiscal year and then possibly on a final bill during the lame duck session of Congress after the elections.
NSAC will continue to monitor and report on the appropriations process as it unfolds. We expect both the House and the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees to mark up their appropriations bills in the coming months; beyond that, however, it remains to be seen whether the bills will be passed individually, folded into a omnibus package, or dropped in favor of a long-term continuing resolution based on current year funding levels.
Click here to read our earlier post on the FY 2013 appropriations process.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development