WASHINGTON, May 27, 2015 – The spending limits will increase pressure on appropriators to cut money from some farm bill programs, with conservation and rural development being possible targets. It’s also going to make it difficult for the Food and Drug Administration to get the extra money the agency says it will need to implement the new rule being finalized under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees that will write the spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration will have virtually no more money to spend for fiscal 2016 than they had for 2015 under the current cap.
Even though the farm bill sets mandatory spending levels for conservation and rural development programs, appropriators regularly dip into those programs for money to use for other priorities. Such cuts are known as Changes in Mandatory Spending, or CHIMPS.
Two large conservation programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, were CHIMPed for fiscal 2015 as was the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which subsidizes next-generation biofuels projects. The fear is that the 2016 budget caps could force appropriators to take cuts from those, as well as other programs.
A collection of groups including the Farm Credit Council, National Association of Counties and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition appealed to the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees not to CHIMP such programs as value-added producer grants and rural microenterprise assistance.
“Federal investments in rural business creation, infrastructure, and housing programs spur private sector job creation and lead to increased economic activity,” the groups wrote.
A coalition of retailers, food companies and trade groups, meanwhile, is asking the subcommittees to provide more money to FDA, which is set to start implementing a series of FSMA rules over the next two years, including produce safety standards and requirements for processor controls.
“This new focus on prevention and expanded authority as granted by Congress necessitates an update and increase to FDA’s food safety tools, from regulations to infrastructure,” the groups wrote the appropriators. The signers of the letter included the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Produce Marketing Association, ConAgra Foods, Land O’ Lakes and Wal-Mart Stores.
Even though Republicans are saying they’re going to stick with the budget caps, there are good reasons to think that a budget agreement could be coming later this year. Republicans need a vehicle for the regulatory policy riders, budget hawks want more spending for defense, and both Republicans and Democrats will want to protect some domestic spending.
“All that means to me that it’s inevitable there will be a grand bargain,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Even so, a budget agreement is no guarantee that individual USDA and FDA programs will benefit. That would depend on how the additional money gets allocated among spending areas, Hoefner cautioned.
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to mark up its bill June 18.
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