By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 – Unveiling his $3.7 trillion federal budget for fiscal 2012 Monday, President Obama said his budget proposal “puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade.” Key to this budget path is the President's decision to freeze annual domestic discretionary spending for five years, cutting the federal deficit by some $400 billion over the next decade. Obama said this will reduce domestic spending “to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.”

Obama confirmed that “this budget freeze will require some tough choices. It will mean cutting things that I care deeply about.” He and his supporters don't relish cutting “community action programs in low-income neighborhoods and towns, and community development block grants that so many of our cities and states rely on.” But Obama said “if we’re going to walk the walk when it comes to fiscal discipline, these kinds of cuts will be necessary.”

Warning that “cutting annual domestic spending won’t be enough to meet our long-term fiscal challenges,” Obama said “As the bipartisan fiscal commission concluded, the only way to truly tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it -– in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.” So instead of embracing all of his federal deficit commission's proposals, he said his 2012 budget plan is simply “a down payment” and that “there’s going to be more work that needs to be done, and it’s going to require Democrats and Republicans coming together to make it happen.”

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., gave no indication Monday that he's ready to accept the administration's budget proposal. Ryan said that he'd expected Obama to deliver a moderate “centrist” budget. Instead, Ryan charged Obama with “an abdication of leadership” in the face of “this crushing burden of debt that is coming our way.” Instead of moving to the center, Ryan said Obama presented “a budget then went to the left. It would be better doing nothing than if we would actually pass this budget.”

Like Obama and Ryan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged that the nation's serious debt situation requires painful choices. In presenting the USDA budget Monday, Vilsack said “we cannot ignore growing deficits accumulated over the past decade through increased spending and tax cuts without offsets.” He said the result is that “To afford the strategic investments we need to grow the economy in the long term while also tackling the deficit, this budget makes difficult cuts to programs the President and I care about. . . In this budget, we are cutting programs not because we want to, but because we have to. . . In the end we must cut to grow.”

Vilsack concluded that like the overall budget, the USDA budget “includes targeted investments and program increases in key areas to support job creation and economic competitiveness.” Specifically, he said USDA “will invest in research to spur innovation, promote exports, support renewable energy and conservation, and enhance critical infrastructure in rural communities. . . .There are serious trade-offs in this budget, but by focusing on programs with the greatest potential to drive innovation, build critical infrastructure, and generate job growth, we will set this nation on a path to out-compete our rivals and win the future.”

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the ranking GOP member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, summed up the likely outcome for the President’s budget plan.

“The administration has once again dusted off old proposals aimed at pitting farmers against farmers. Thankfully, Congress has consistently rejected these efforts in the past. Rather than leading an honest discussion regarding the underlying drivers behind the national debt, the administration instead chose to cut our producers’ safety net,” he said in a statement.


“Agriculture is ready for an open discussion about the federal budget and willing to contribute its fair share to achieve a fiscally responsible outcome. However, in doing so, Congress should not put more than that fair share on the backs of farmers and ranchers. I appreciate the administration’s perspective but Congress will take over from here on setting our national budget priorities.”

For details on President Obama's 2012 budget proposal, click here. For the 132-page U.S. Department of Agriculture Budget Summary, click here.

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