WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 – The budget issue will be coming into sharper focus as Republicans plan how to use their control of both the Senate and House to make deeper cuts in spending. Nutrition assistance and farm programs could potentially be vulnerable to cuts, depending on how far GOP congressional leaders decide to go.

Republicans say they want to have budget resolutions passed through the House and Senate in April laying out the blueprint for what cuts they want to make. Those resolutions could then trigger action by congressional committees, including the Agriculture panels, to make reductions.

The cuts recommended by committees would then be combined into a budget reconciliation measure that the House and Senate would need to pass and the president would have to sign into law. Getting President Obama to go along is a high hurdle, but the process would give Republicans a chance to score some political points heading into the 2016 campaign.

Congress last employed the reconciliation process in early 2010 when Democrats used it to force the Affordable Care Act through the Senate. Republicans couldn’t block the legislation with a filibuster, because a reconciliation bill only requires a simple majority in the Senate, not the usual 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster. This year, reconciliation offers Republicans their best chance to pass cuts to the health care law, though Obama would still stand in the way.

It’s not clear yet whether agriculture or nutrition programs would be targeted for cuts through reconciliation. Those programs already took a hit in the 2014 farm bill. And some Senate sources tell Agri-Pulse that reconciliation might be limited to the Finance Committee to deal with tax reform and repeal of Obamacare.

If reconciliation occurs, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is arguing that the House budget resolution should leave it up to his committee to decide what to cut. “I’m telling them to just give me a number. We’ll work from there. Don’t give me any kind of specific instructions as to how to do it,” Conaway said in an Agri-Pulse Open Mic interview.

A former staff director for the House Agriculture Committee, Bill O’Conner, who now works for McLeod, Watkinson and Miller, says the size and scope of any potential budget reconciliation remains unclear. The Budget Committee could send an overall reduction target or instruct the Ag Committee to cut by budget function, he explains, “but details probably won’t be released until just before they vote on it.”

Conaway didn’t rule out proposing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, as part of the budget process, although for now his committee’s focus is only on oversight, he said. He has dedicated one subcommittee, chaired by Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., to do a “soup-to-nuts’ review of SNAP over the next two years.

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday gave Republicans some fresh ammunition to pursue new spending cuts. CBO’s latest six-month budget forecast projected that the deficit will start to grow as a share of the economy in 2018 as government retirement and health care spending increases. CBO is forecasting that the federal budget deficit will hold steady relative to the size of the economy through 2018 but then begin to grow as government spending increases outstrip revenue. The deficit this year is estimated at $468 billion, or about 2.6 percent of GDP. By 2025, the deficit is expected to reach $1.1 trillion, or 4 percent of GDP.

“In reviewing this report, one thing is abundantly clear: our nation is on an unsustainable path,” House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said on Tuesday.

The president is due to release his proposed budget for fiscal 2016 next Monday, and it will include a plan to nearly double spending on fighting antibiotic resistance. The plan, which would boost spending on the issue to more than $1.2 billion in fiscal 2016, including $77 million earmarked for the Agriculture Department’s research and surveillance work on farm antibiotics, a nearly four-fold increase. USDA is working on developing alternatives to antibiotics, including possible changes in animal care practices. The Food and Drug Administration would get $47 million for “antibiotic stewardship” in animal agriculture and for evaluating new antibacterial drugs in humans. The increased spending is part of a larger administration strategy that includes phasing out the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock.




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