Obama proposes agency budgets
By The Associated Press
Here is a summary of President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for ag-related departments for fiscal 2015, beginning next Oct. 1.
The top-line figures do not include spending on automatic benefit and subsidy programs that together account for 70 percent of government spending. Figures for many of those programs were not provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The top-line figures for each agency also omit the $55.4 billion “opportunity” initiative Obama would divide equally between domestic and military programs. An agency-by-agency accounting of that proposed spending was not included in the White House budget documents.
Discretionary spending: $22.2 billion
Percentage change from 2014: 7.9 percent decrease
Highlights: The recently-enacted five-year farm bill made some cutbacks to farm subsidies that the Obama administration has called for annually. But the administration would like that reform to go even further by scaling back crop insurance.
The budget proposes around a 15 percent cut in the $9 billion-a-year program, which partially subsidizes both the companies that sell crop insurance and farmer premiums. There will be little appetite for that reform in Congress, however, where funding for crop insurance has been a priority.
The bulk of the USDA budget is food stamps, which cost $80 billion last year, and money for farm subsidies and conservation programs. Together, those so-called mandatory dollars are expected to cost $123 billion on top of the $22.2 billion in discretionary spending, an 8 percent decrease from the 2014 budget year.
The budget would change the way money to fight wildfires is distributed, allowing USDA and the Interior Department to draw funds from a special disaster account when the cost of tackling fires exceeds their annual budget.
The Obama administration also proposed doubling dollars for broadband access the neediest, most rural communities and providing an extra $50 million to strengthen bee and other pollinator habitats. Many of the nation’s bees, needed to pollinate crops, have been disappearing in the last decade.
The budget includes extra $295 million not included in the budget numbers that would go to agricultural research, including a new laboratory in Athens, Ga.
USDA shares food safety oversight with the Food and Drug Administration. The Agriculture Department, which oversees meat and eggs, would see about a 1 percent decrease its $1 billion in annual funding. FDA, which oversees most other foods, would get a boost of $24 million to put a new food safety law in place.
Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
Discretionary spending: $7.9 billion
Percentage change from 2014: 3.7 percent decrease
Highlights: As the lead agency on cutting the pollution blamed for global warming, the EPA has some big years ahead. But the Obama administration is proposing to shave the agency’s budget once again in 2015, even as it raises the amount of money available to states, which it will increasingly rely on to help achieve its environmental goals.
The 2015 budget request envisions an EPA with the trimmest staff since 2003, forcing the agency to realign priorities and staff and make tough choices as EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday.
The budget includes a $76 million bump to grants for states and tribes, including $20 million to be used solely on efforts to support President Barack Obama’s second-term push on global warming. State agencies will play a key role in determining how exactly existing coal-fired power plants will reduce carbon pollution, a regulation EPA is expected to propose this summer.
Obama’s budget request directs 24 full-time staff and $10 million to execute Obama’s climate plan and devotes nearly 20 percent of the agency’s $1 billion climate and air quality budget to fighting global warming.
After an explosion of ammonium nitrate at a West, Texas fertilizer plant, the administration is requesting $13 million more to upgrade computer software used by first responders to map chemical releases, to store data on chemical risk and to predict where a release to air would travel. Yet the budget cuts $581 million to loan programs used by states and tribes to upgrade drinking water infrastructure and protect water resources, even though a 2011 report to Congress found that $384.2 billion would be needed through 2030.
Some of that money will likely be restored by lawmakers keen on finding money to send back to their home states.
The budget eliminates $56 million in programs, including grants to monitor water quality at beaches, reduce cancer-causing radon indoors, and clean up emissions from diesel engines.
The EPA’s budget figures exclude an additional $14 million, the agency’s share of Obama’s request for an extra $55 billion above a December budget agreement. That money is slated for helping communities prepare for impending climate changes: $10 million will be spent on protecting coastal wetlands and $4 million will support urban forests.
Discretionary spending: $11.5 billion
Percentage change from 2014: None
Highlights: In a flat budget year for Interior, Obama’s proposal would allow the agency, along with the Agriculture Department, to draw funds from a special disaster account to fight wildfires. That’s the same approach the government currently takes when responding to hurricanes and tornadoes. Obama said it would provide more certainty for agencies that fight fires, including the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.
The proposal is part of the administration’s effort to ramp up its response to the growing impacts of climate change, including more severe wildfires and drought.
The budget also would allocate $900 million to support land and water conservation programs that protect parks, wildlife refuges, forests, rivers, trails, battlefields, historic and cultural sites. The budget also includes $400 million as part of a three-year, $1.2 billion plan to upgrade and restore national parks in honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. The proposal includes $300 million per year in federal spending, with another $100 million per year in private funds. The program is aimed at ensuring that 1,700 “high priority” park assets are restored to good condition by 2017.
The budget again floats new fees for the oil and gas industry to pay for the processing of permits and would impose fees on leased parcels where no production is occurring. Officials say the fees would save an estimated $250 million a year and expedite drilling on public lands, but the ideas have made little headway in Congress.
The plan includes $375 million for two agencies that oversee offshore drilling and award leases to energy companies. The money would continue reforms begin after the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In a move sure to irk coal-state lawmakers, Obama again calls for changing a fee system designed to clean up abandoned coal mines. States with no abandoned mines would not receive payments. The proposal has made little headway in Congress.
Discretionary spending: $11.8 billion
Percentage change from 2014: 1.7 percent decrease
Highlights: Obama’s budget would put into force his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 now to $10.10, which has encountered resistance on Capitol Hill from many Republicans. It would beef up job training and employment programs and consolidate and modernize training programs to help displaced workers. It would strengthen the Pension Guarantee Corporation to serve as a backstop to insure pension payments for workers whose companies have failed. It would also streamline the unemployment insurance system. It would earmark additional funds to help states launch paid-leave programs