By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.


WASHINGTON, May 22Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is one of several who will testify this week before the Senate Agriculture Committee, providing a broad brush overview of the challenges and opportunities confronting lawmakers as they hold the first of many future farm bill hearings.


The biggest challenge continues to be the budget and, if the latest rumors out of the White House budget cutting negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden hold true, lawmakers will have to figure out how to craft the 2012 Farm Bill with at least $34 billion less over the next ten years, in addition to the baseline reductions already projected.


As we reported Friday at

most of the savings would be achieved by eliminating fixed direct payments to farmers.


The budget situation is looking so dire that some farm groups are calling for leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to hurry up the process. In letters sent Friday, representatives of 17 organizations, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Corn Growers Asscociation, the National Farmers Union, and the United Egg Producers wrote:


“As the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill approaches, it is has become even more clear that the next farm bill must be passed prior to Sept. 30, 2012….


“With each passing day, the amount of funding available for the next farm bill shrinks.

“Agriculture programs have been a frequent target of cuts in the ongoing effort to decrease the federal budget deficit. In 2010, the Standard Reinsurance Agreement approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced the baseline level of funding for the next farm bill by $4 billion. The budget for Fiscal Year 2011 cut spending for agriculture-related programs by $3 billion. Significant cuts were passed by the House for Fiscal Year 2012 and the Senate continues to work on proposals,” the letter explained.

But the budget negotations are still in flux, and the range of options could be showcased later this week when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, pushes for a Senate vote on the House-passed budget plan that would revamp the way Medicare is structured for anyone currrently under 55 and call for $30 billion in farm program cuts.


But speaking on Fox News Sunday this morning, Ranking Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said there are several budgets in play, including one from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.


“I'm going to make sure that the Democrats get to vote on the Obama budget, which the President -- which my counterpart, Harry Reid, thought was terrific back in February.  So, there will be votes on several different budgets in the Senate,” McConnell emphasized. However, he explained that the "real action on deficit reduction is down at the White House in meetings headed by the vice president."


For more hearings and events this week:


Monday May 23, 2011:


The Senate and the House are in session at 2 p.m.


9:00 a.m., Deputy Secretary Merrigan will deliver the plenary welcome at the Wholesame Wave National Partners Convening in Washington, D.C.


At 11:45 a.m. (CDT), Secretary Vilsack will visit a Flex-fuel pump to discuss gas prices and the need for renewable fuel infrastructure in Nashville, TN.


3:00 p.m., House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold the eighth day of its hearing on “The American Energy Initiative”. 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.


7:00 p.m., Secretary Vilsack will be interviewed LIVE on RFD-TV to discuss gas prices and renewable energy issues.


USDA Reports: Chicken and Eggs, Crop Progress


Tuesday May 24, 2011:


9:00 a.m., House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Oversight Hearing on “Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy: Domestic Minerals Supplies and Demands in a time of Foreign Supply Disruptions”. 1324 Longworth House Office Building.


9:00 a.m., House committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Full Committee Hearing on “Pain At The Pump: Policies That Suppress Domestic Production Of Oil and Gas”. 2154 Rayburn House Office Building


9:30 a.m., House Committee on Appropriations Full Committee hearing, Report on the Suballocation of Budget Allocations for FY 2012


Secretary Vilsack will deliver a keynote address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Symposium in Washington, DC. Afterward, Secretary Vilsack will hold a joint press availability with USAID Administrator Raj Shah.


4:00 p.m., House Appropriations Agricultural Subcommittee, Markup Appropriations Bill for FY 2012, 2358 Rayburn House Office Building.


Wednesday May 25, 2011:


10:00 a.m., Senate Committee on Finance, Full Committee Hearing on the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building.


10:00 a.m., Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Full Committee Hearing on How to Save Taxpayer Dollars: Case Studies of Duplication in the Federal Government. 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building.


10:00 a.m., House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Hearing on “Harmonizing Global Derivatives Reform: Impact on U.S. Competitiveness and Market Stability”. 1300 Longworth House Office Building.


10:00 a.m., House Committee on Natural Resources, Full Committee Oversight Hearing on “Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices – Part III: Impacts on Seniors, Working Families and Memorial Day Vacations”. 1324 Longworth House Office Building.


2:30 p.m., House committee on Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Investigations Hearing on “UN Climate Talks and Power Politics: It’s Not about the Temperature”. 2172 Rayburn House Office Building.


2:30 p.m., Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Public Lands and Forest Subcommittee Hearing to consider seven bills. 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building.


4:30 p.m., Secretary Vilsack will deliver a keynote address highlighting the Administrations’ agricultural export goals during the U.S. Meat Export Federation Board of Directors Meeting in Washington, D.C.


USDA Reports: Poultry Slaughter, Agricultural Chemical Usage- Field Crops, Broiler Hatchery, Monthly Milk Cost of Production, and Rice Yearbook Tables


Thursday May 26, 2011:


10:00 a.m., Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Food for Thought: The Role, Risks and Challenges for American Agriculture and the Next Farm Bill in Meeting the Demands of a Growing World. 216 Hart Senate Office Building.

            -Secretary Vilsack will testify before the Committee


10:00 a.m., Senate Committee on Finance, Full Committee Hearing on the U.S. – Korea Free Trade Agreement. 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building.


10:00 a.m., Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Full Committee Business Meeting to consider pending energy legislation. 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building. 


USDA Reports: U.S. Export Sales, and Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade


Friday May 26, 2011:


USDA Reports: Dairy Products Prices, Peanut Stocks and Processing, Peanut Prices, and Fruit & Tree Nuts Outlook


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