Obama set to formalize major across-the-board spending cuts

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

ORLANDO, Fla., March 1, 2013 - President Obama is expected today to formalize the $85 billion across-the-board cuts to federal departments and agencies, including an approximate 9 percent reduction to USDA funds.

Speaking at the Commodity Classic convention in Orlando, Fla., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the department is struggling to handle the line-item reductions that come with sequestration.

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“I have to apologize,” Vilsack said. “This is crazy. In a functional democracy, this shouldn't happen.”

Vilsack reiterated that the sequestration will result in a furlough of many USDA employees, including food safety inspectors.

“The notices will be sent out next week,” he said. “There will be some offices where people simply aren't there.”

Any last minute hopes of avoiding the cuts were dashed last night when the House recessed until next week, and the Senate rejected two bills aimed to stave off sequestration.

The Senate rejected, with a 51-49 vote, legislation (S. 388) that would have ended farm direct payments, increased taxes and cut defense spending to offset the overall cuts. The bill required 60 votes for passage.

The Senate also rejected, with a 38-62 vote, legislation (S. 16) that would have kept in place the overall level of cuts while allowing departments flexibility in making the cuts.

In a Feb. 27 letter, the Office of Budget and Management said, “These reductions will result in significant and harmful impacts to national security and domestic priorities.”

Shortly after the Senate votes, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he was disappointed that Senate did not approve legislation to avoid the sequestration.

“Our agricultural producers remain committed to being a part of the solution to our fiscal crisis, but a plan that is made up of half tax increases and half cuts to agriculture and defense is an absurd approach to balancing a budget."


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