Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:00 PM
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking every opportunity to tout the pain and suffering the ongoing budget sequester will cause farmers and ranchers.
Unless some deal is worked out, under provisions of the 2011 Budget Control Act now in effect $85 billion must be cut in spending between now and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. That's 2.5 percent of anticipated spending totaling $3.6 trillion.
The sequestration is a cheap gimmick, made all the more clear by even a cursory examination of some of the administration's tortured attempts to highlight its consequences.
USDA's share of the cut, which is actually a reduction in the year-over-year increase in spending, is between $2 billion and $3 billion.
USDA had been budgeted to spend $147 billion this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It is on track, however, to spend $155 billion. Sequestration will result in USDA going only $5 billion over budget instead of $8 billion, a "devastating" spending cut by Washington standards.
If the law has a shortcoming it's that it requires across-the-board reductions in affected programs, denying officials the authority to fully fund "useful" programs while eliminating unneeded spending. The Obama administration has rebuffed congressional attempts to give it that power, opting instead to trumpet the draconian impacts of the cuts.
To that end, USDA officials are warning about the consequences of dropping 900,000 mothers and children from the WIC program, the furlough of meat inspectors and long waits at the Farm Service Agency.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service recently announced it was suspending certain surveys and reports. The casualties include: all catfish and trout reports; the July cattle report; noncitrus fruit, nut and vegetable reports; the June rice stocks report; all hops reports; the mink report; and all milk production reports.
NASS says the cuts were necessary to whittle $5.8 million from money spent on estimations and surveys.
It was less forthcoming, in its press releases at least, about some of the specifics about the service's budget and the impacts of the sequestration on its staff.
The NASS bureaucrats have saved themselves from furlough while cutting their workload. They will work at full pay on the reports and surveys not slated for suspension. The savings will come from the nonpersonnel costs related to the suspended reports.
The current NASS budget of $179 million is $14 million more than last year. The budget "cut" will produce a spending increase of only $8 million and some change.
Instead of a real discussion about the country's budget woes, taxpayers are being treated to poorly written and badly acted theater of the absurd.