House GOP budget protects farm bill programs

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 17, 2015 - A long-term budget plan unveiled by House Republicans would leave farm bill programs virtually untouched.

A budget resolution that GOP leaders hope to push through the House next week would direct the House Agriculture Committee to propose $1 billion in cuts over 10 years, but that would represent just a small fraction of total farm bill spending, and the reduction may never be enacted anyway.

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The Senate Budget Committee is expected to reveal its resolution on Wednesday.

The resolutions are used to set spending limits for the next fiscal year as well as to lay out 10-year blueprints for spending and revenue. The long-term proposals in both resolutions are likely to be largely symbolic, because they would have to be written into a separate reconciliation bill that President Obama would almost certainly veto.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway said the $1 billion, 10-year cut is smaller than the Budget Committee had originally been considering. Conaway declined to say what reductions his panel might propose to come up with the $100 million a year, though he ruled out considering the cuts to crop insurance that President Obama proposed in his fiscal 2016 budget. The total 10-year cost of programs covered by the farm bill, including nutrition assistance, approaches $1 trillion.

Conaway and his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have argued against making any cuts to farm bill programs because of spending reductions made in the new law enacted last year. 

The authors of the budget resolution “gave some sensitivity to what we have already been through with a farm bill. The ink is just barely dry,” Conaway said.

The House resolution also includes a longstanding GOP proposal to turn the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over to the states to the run, but has no chance of being enacted this year. Missing this year are any attacks on crop insurance and other farm programs.

Conaway reiterated that the committee would finish a “soup-to-nuts” review of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, before proposing any changes to the program.

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The budget resolution also proposes deep cuts in domestic spending, but it pushes those to fiscal 2017 and beyond, which means they won't affect the fiscal 2016 appropriations process. In fiscal 2017, the budget proposes a $44 billion cut in domestic spending below the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

A cut of that size would translate into a $2 billion, or 10 percent, reduction in the spending bill for the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Defense spending would be increased by $38 billion over the limit now in law for fiscal 2017.

The 2017 numbers are likely to be revised, however. The House and Senate will write new budget resolutions a year from now for fiscal 2017.

Requiring deep cuts in fiscal 2016 could jeopardize the ability of GOP leaders to move appropriations bills that they want to use to attack the administration's regulatory agenda.

“In this budget, we have embraced the innovative spirit of the American people by putting forth policies that can deliver real results and that empower individuals, families, job creators and our communities to build a stronger more secure future,” said House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.

There are still questions about whether the resolution can pass the House. Democrats won't support the resolution, and some Republicans want more spending for defense.


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