Sens. Chambliss, Brownback question USDA’s budget tactics
By Agri-Pulse staff
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
Washington, July 29 – U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Sam Brownback (R-KS.), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, are raising new concerns about how USDA plans to cut spending. President Obama has asked all cabinet secretaries to trim their discretionary budgets by 5%.
At issue: why USDA would require “flexibility” from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to cut mandatory farm safety net programs to meet discretionary funding reductions.
“We openly question why USDA would require ‘flexibility’ from OMB to cut mandatory farm safety net programs to meet discretionary funding reductions,” said the Senators in the letter. “While the total cost of the discretionary fiscal year 2011 budget request was lower than the fiscal year 2010 appropriations act, the cost savings was largely achieved through increased savings from mandatory programs, not from true discretionary savings. Simply put, honest budgeting requires that discretionary savings come from reductions to discretionary programs. We believe the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 should be based on honest budgeting.”
The Senators questioned USDA’s willingness to target farm safety net programs while protecting discretionary programs despite steady increases in the last two budget cycles. They also stressed that efforts to change rules in the middle of a farm bill only breed uncertainty and affects planting decisions, farm lending, equipment purchases and land values.
Full text of the letter to Sec. Vilsack is below:
July 28, 2010
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We read with interest a recent article noting your request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for “flexibility” to include mandatory farm programs to achieve discretionary spending reductions for the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget submission. We appreciate and agree with the need to control federal spending and reduce the deficit and long-term debt. However, we are very concerned that your recent letter and comments by Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan exhibit a lack of commitment in addressing the President’s budget targets in an honest and forthright way.
Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its Monthly Budget Review noting the Federal deficit was just over $1.0 trillion for the first nine months of fiscal year 2010 and the agency projects that Federal debt will reach 62 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the end of this year. Spending for both discretionary and mandatory programs cannot continue at current rates, and Congress and the Administration must prioritize spending while making some very difficult choices.
With regard to the budget for the Department of Agriculture, over the two previous fiscal years, discretionary and mandatory programs both increased 7 and 20 percent respectively. While it is true that nutrition, feeding and food safety programs represent a significant portion of outlays for both mandatory and discretionary accounts, conservation, rural development and other discretionary functions at the Department received approximately a 15 percent increase in fiscal year 2010 compared to the previous one (excluding the supplemental appropriations bill).
We openly question why USDA would require “flexibility” from OMB to cut mandatory farm safety net programs to meet discretionary funding reductions. We find it not credible that a five percent savings target is not possible in one of the largest agencies in the Federal government. Unfortunately, unless the Department finds savings through reductions to discretionary programs, we fear the fiscal year 2012 budget proposal will look very similar to the fiscal year 2011 budget proposal, where increased savings from mandatory programs allowed for the growth of many programs. While the total cost of the discretionary fiscal year 2011 budget request was lower than the fiscal year 2010 appropriations act, the cost savings was largely achieved through increased savings from mandatory programs, not from true discretionary savings. Simply put, honest budgeting requires that discretionary savings come from reductions to discretionary programs. We believe the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 should be based on honest budgeting.
Like all businesses, farmers and ranchers need a level of certainty to operate, which is one reason farm bills generally last five to seven years. Proposals to change the rules in the middle of a farm bill only breeds uncertainty and affects planting decisions, farm lending, equipment purchases, and land values. The time to examine and make changes to mandatory programs is during the upcoming reauthorization of the farm bill.
We appreciate the difficult task ahead for all of us and the hard choices that will be made to restore fiscal discipline to the budget. However, all parts of government need to contribute and specific components should not be continually targeted disproportionately. We look forward to continuing this conversation in the months ahead on this very important task.
Very truly yours,
U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss
U.S. Senator Sam Brownback