The debate over how and how much to cut federal spending produced both some answers and more questions this week in Washington.
After a nail-biting week of negotiations, Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama announced late last Friday they had come to an agreement on federal spending for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30 – averting a government shutdown that would have otherwise occurred within hours.
The House and Senate quickly passed a short-term measure to extend spending into this week to allow time to produce final legislative language, and the President signed the gap measure on Saturday before details even emerged about what the new agreement contained.
The House approved the final bill, H.R. 1473, Thursday afternoon by a 260 to 167 vote, followed by the Senate’s approval by an 81 to 19 vote.
While agriculture only totals 2 percent of the federal budget, H.R. 1473 and other recently-enacted stopgap continuing resolution legislation will have cut more than 14 percent from agriculture spending compared to fiscal year 2010.
Farm Service Agency (FSA) salaries and expenses were cut 3.4 percent; agriculture research was cut 9.3 percent; conservation was cut 12 percent; the Women’s, Infants and Children nutrition program was cut 7 percent; Title II food aid was cut 11 percent; and the McGovern-Dole food aid program was cut 4.8 percent by eliminating the local purchase pilot program. However, within the overall cuts for research, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) received a 1 percent increase.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack acknowledged this week that the cuts would not be easy to make with so little time left in the fiscal year, and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) warned this week that the total agriculture baseline is also being eroded by “changes in mandatory program spending” or CHIMPS.
While the FY2011 process wrapped up, debate over the FY2012 budget heated up, with the House moving forward on a budget resolution and President Barack Obama throwing his ideas into the ring for debate.
On Wednesday, Obama delivered a speech calling for $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years. In addition to cuts to discretionary spending, the program would look at cutting defense spending and reforming Medicare and Medicaid. It would also modify the tax code and eliminate Bush-era tax cuts.
The proposal also included a “debt failsafe” that would trigger across-the-board spending cuts if certain debt reduction targets aren’t met, and a proposal to establish a formal process for legislative negotiations.
Details of the proposal released by the White House did include “agriculture subsidies” in a list of mandatory programs that would be targeted for cuts under the proposal.
Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to vote Friday on a Republican-offered FY2012 budget resolution that would cut more than $6 trillion over 10 years.
As the process continues for the FY2012 budget, NAWG will continue to advocate for proportionality for any cuts made to agriculture in the name of deficit reduction. NAWG delivered this message to nearly a dozen Senate offices this week as part of meetings scheduled to talk primarily about rail competition legislation.
More details about the President’s plan are at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/13/president-obama-s-framework-4-trillion-deficit-reduction.
More details about the final FY2011 deal are at http://republicans.appropriations.house.gov/_files/41211ProgramCutsListFinalFY2011CR.pdf.