Factions sharpen budget knives
Overall spending for ag programs went up, chairman says
By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A fiscal 2012 funding bill approved May 24 by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee would not cut the crop insurance program as the initial draft seemed to indicate, but many other agriculture, nutrition and international food aid programs would lose money.
In addition, the bill would not fund the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's enforcement of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill and USDA could not move forward with a proposed rule change regulating the marketing of livestock and poultry.
The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, but the Democrats, who are in the minority, voted no. House subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., noted that the panel had received a $17.25 billion budget allocation and had used exactly that amount. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
"This is a tough allocation and it represents funding cuts across the entire bill," Kingston said. "But we have to face reality and the reality is that America is at a crossroads. For every dollar we spend, 42 cents has to be borrowed."
Kingston told reporters after the markup that even though there are cuts in many programs, the overall spending level for agriculture programs went up due to increases in food stamps and the child nutrition programs, including a six-cent increase in the reimbursement rate for school meals that is expected to increase purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Democrats said they understand Kingston's difficulties in writing the bill but were not pleased with the result.
"You don't need to lecture me on the debt crisis," said subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif.
Farr said he expects the Senate bill to be "drastically" different from the House bill, and that the two bodies will not be able to come together on appropriations bills.
"If Republicans stick to these cuts, I don't see how it can be agreed upon by the Senate. We'll have our fifth annual (continuing resolution)," Farr said.
The bill was not substantially different from the bill that the House Appropriations Committee released May 23, but there were a couple of key changes.
The initial draft indicated that crop insurance spending would be limited to $3.1 billion, which would have meant a cut of $4.5 billion from the fiscal year 2011 spending level of $7.6 billion. But Kingston told reporters that "such sums as needed" would be available for the crop insurance program, which is the usual way mandatory agriculture programs are handled.
The initial draft also zeroed out money for the Congressional Hunger Center, which manages a fellowship program in honor of the late Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., but a key House source said that $1.5 million in nutrition administration money will be available for the center.
Farr and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., were both particularly bothered by the Republicans' unwillingness to give the commodities commission money to enforce the Dodd-Frank bill, which reforms how commodities and some financial instruments are regulated. The commission got $136 million, or 44 percent less than the Obama administration requested.
"If there was a place not to cut it is reform of Wall Street," Farr said.
DeLauro also said that the cut to food safety programs "rolls back years of progress."
The mark-up of the agriculture bill in the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled for May 31.