Farm spending, nutrition escape cuts in Senate GOP budget

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 18, 2015 - Farm groups and anti-hunger advocates are well-positioned to avoid any major cuts in agriculture or nutrition spending under the long-term budget plans unveiled in the House and Senate.

Senate Republicans proposed a budget resolution Wednesday that calls for balancing the budget in 10 years with deep cuts in all forms of non-defense spending, including food stamps, conservation and farm groups. But the measure is essentially toothless, because for the most part it wouldn't direct committees, including Senate Agriculture, to propose any cuts that would be implemented through a separate process known as budget reconciliation.

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The House resolution, unveiled Tuesday, would require the House Agriculture Committee to propose a fairly minimal level of cuts, $1 billion over 10 years, in agriculture or nutrition programs.

Senate and House leaders hope to agree next month on a compromise version.

Without reconciliation requirements for committees such as Agriculture, the resolution would be little more than a GOP wish list.

“We hope by the time the final resolution is crafted, the House will agree with the Senate to leave the farm bill alone in the budget resolution,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and his House counterpart, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, have been arguing that they shouldn't be required to make any cuts since the 2014 farm bill already reduced some spending.

“I'm just urging people to keep their powder dry,” Roberts said Wednesday. “This is a blueprint. It ceases to become a blueprint when we get to reconciliation and get to a specific number” that must be cut.

The most direct impact of the resolutions is in setting limits for fiscal 2016 spending bills. Both the House and Senate resolutions would keep the limits unchanged from the levels Congress agreed to in a 2011 law.

Leaving the fiscal 2016 spending limits as they are, instead of lowering them, is expected to make it easier for appropriators to agree on spending bills for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and other agencies and departments. Republicans are banking on using the spending bills to enact provisions blocking or weakening regulations.

Cutting programs such as food stamps, farm programs and Social Security would require going through the reconciliation process and it would be virtually impossible for congressional Republicans to agree on significant cuts that President Obama would sign.

The budget resolution itself doesn't have to be signed by the president.

The Senate version calls for reducing the federal deficit, estimated at $468 billion, fiscal 2015, until there is a small $3 billion surplus by 2025.

“Today we begin the monumental task of confronting our nation's chronic overspending and exploding debt, which threatens each and every American,” said Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. “Make no mistake, our fiscal outlook is grim and has been ignored for far too long.”

Just two committees are directed to make cuts in the Senate resolution - Finance, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions - and that is just in case Republicans want to act in the wake of the Supreme Court case challenging the insurance subsidies being offered under the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate Budget Committee declined to release the specific ideas for spending cuts,  including those in farm and nutrition programs, that were used to develop its plan.

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