House sends Senate two-year budget plan to avoid shutdown, give sequestration relief

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2013 - The House approved tonight a two-year budget bill (H.J. Res. 59), on a 332-94 vote, that seeks to avoid another government shutdown in January while providing some sequestration relief to federal agencies.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is expected to approve it and send it to President Obama as soon as next week. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Voting in support of the measure were 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats, while 62 Republicans and 32 Democrats voted against the deal.

Lets Talk Food

The legislation, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., seeks to provide $63 billion in temporary sequester relief split evenly between military spending and domestic spending. The bill also aims to provide $85 billion in mandatory savings, and reduce the deficit by $23 billion over the next 10 years.

Ryan called the legislation a “firm step in the right direction” by reducing the deficit without raising taxes. “It will bring stability to the budget process and show both parties can work together,” Ryan said.

Murray said the bill brings Congress one step closer to a budget that “would prevent another crisis and roll back devastating cuts to education, medical research, and investments in economic growth.” Murray said she expects a strong bipartisan vote in support of the bill in the Senate.

It remains unclear what type, if any, sequestration relief the USDA may receive. USDA has been relatively quiet on the issue, other than passing along a statement of administration policy in support of the legislation.

Still, agricultural stakeholders have been digging into the bill.

One section of the deal would authorize the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to collect fees of up to $150 per conservation plan to cover some of the costs of providing technical assistance for a producer or landowner. The agriculture secretary could waive fees for assistance provided to members of historically underserved groups, such as beginning farmers or ranchers, limited resource farmers or ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers.

Ferd Hoefner, policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, recently described the proposed fees as “historically unprecedented” and noted that, “it does not raise very much money, but it will put a real damper on getting conservation on the land and improving soil and water quality.”

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the budget deal “hits agriculture programs again” and fails to address the need for a long-term farm bill.

“Charging a fee for helping farmers to become more environmentally-friendly is counterproductive,” Johnson said. “Congress ought to encourage farmers to establish these sorts of conservation improvements, not make them more difficult.”

Johnson said the farm bill would likely save as much as the budget legislation, while “sensibly reforming many farm, conservation and other programs.” 

“Passing a farm bill before the end of the year would be a better budget deal than what's been proposed,” Johnson said.

In addition, Oxfam America said the legislation includes an “obscure policy change” that would result in less international food aid reaching hungry people. The organization said a proposed change would end the reimbursement USAID and USDA receive for excess costs associated with the requirement that 50 percent of all food aid be shipped on U.S. flagged vessels. Oxfam said that could cost USAID's food aid program about $56 million annually.

Eric Munoz, Oxfam America senior policy advisor, said, “The bipartisan budget deal pours gasoline on the fire to reform international food aid programs. For years, outdated regulations have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and prevented aid from getting to hungry people.”

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