Senate approves two-year budget, sending bill to Obama

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2013 - The Senate approved today, with a 64-36 vote, a two-year budget bill (H.J. Res. 59) that seeks to ease sequestration rates for some federal agencies and to avoid another government shutdown in January.

The vote sends the bill to President Obama for his expected signature. The House previously approved the bill on a 332-94 vote.

Nine Republican senators joined 53 Democratic and two Independent senators in support the bill. The roll call vote tally can be viewed here.

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The legislation, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., seeks to provide $63 billion in temporary sequester relief divided 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.

In a statement after the vote, Obama said the budget bill will relieve some of the “damaging sequester cuts” that have hurt students and seniors and have “acted as headwinds our businesses had to fight.”

“It clears a path for critical investments in things like education and research that have always grown our economy and strengthened the middle class,” Obama said.

Lawmakers in support of the bill have said it also would create jobs, and that “neither side got everything they wanted” in the deal. Opponents in the Senate have said the bill would not include enough deficit reduction.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, voted against the bill, saying the bill would spend an additional $63 billion over the next two years while the government holds a $17 trillion debt. “To offset that higher spending, it raises revenue over ten years but spends that money in the first two years,” Grassley said on Tuesday. “Nearly all of the meager spending cuts come way down the road, in 2022 and 2023.”

The bill includes some agriculture sector-related provisions:

  • The legislation would authorize $404 million in funding for the National Bio and Agro-Defense facility (NBAF) in Kansas, which will eventually replace the functions of the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off Long Island. NBAF will study dangerous foreign animal diseases as well as emerging and new infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), said his organization believes some of the savings generated by replacing sequestration should be directed to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees to “help build upon successful rural investments and reverse the trend of repeatedly shortchanging important programs due to unreasonable low allocations and sequestration.”

However, NSAC said it opposes two additional years of farm bill conservation program automatic cuts included in the budget deal. In addition, the organization opposes the NRCS authorization to collect fees from farmers for conservation technical assistance.

“It is our fervent hope that the farm bill conferees will use the soon-to-emerge new five-year farm bill to replace these misguided budget deal provisions with better policies,” Hoefner said.

Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the bill eases some of domestic spending cuts that have hampered health and environmental protections.

“Thanks to this bipartisan budget, our drinking water will be safer, our kids will suffer less from asthma and millions of Americans will be able to enjoy hiking, fishing and hunting in our national parks and public lands,” Slesinger said. “Now, House GOP radicals shouldn't be allowed to hijack implementing this budget with ideological riders that undermine public health, and our air and water quality.”

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Updated Dec. 18, 8:00 p.m.

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