As we reported earlier this week, on March 1 the House passed 335-91 a two-week extension of the existing short-term CR (first passed in September 2010) that is keeping the government running at fiscal year 2010 levels. Following House passage, the Senate also passed the two-week extension, ensuring that the government remains funded through March 18.
At this point, it is still far from certain that both chambers will be able to agree on a bill to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. It is quite possible that we will see yet another CR come March 18.
Farm Bill Conservation Cuts
While less harmful than H.R. 1, the new Senate bill nonetheless does cut mandatory farm bill conservation funding. Funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program would be cut by $298 million, somewhat less than the $350 million cut in H.R. 1. Cuts to the Wetlands Reserve Program would be held to $35 million, relative to the $119 million cut in H.R. 1. Unlike H.R. 1′s $39 million cut, the draft Senate bill does not make any cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program.
Overall, H.R. 1 cuts total mandatory farm bill funding for conservation by 9.5 percent and cuts total mandatory farm bill spending for conservation programs administered by the Natural Resource Conservation Service by 15 percent. The equivalent numbers for the new Senate bill are 6 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
The Senate bill does not appear to make any cuts to the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which was cut in H.R. by $134 million.
The new Senate bill leaves several important NSAC-supported programs at their current levels, rather than terminating the programs as would H.R. 1. These include the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA), Organic Transitions research program, the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach (for minority and beginning farmers), and the USDA Office of Tribal Relations.
However, there are still problems with the Senate bill. While the House bill would retain funding for the Regional Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Centers at the current $4.1 million level, the Senate would terminate them. Also terminated in the Senate bill are Farm Service Agency Conservation Loans.
Where H.R. 1 would cut the Food and Drug Administration by $241 million and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service by $88 million, the Senate bill would fund FDA at the level proposed by the President, $400 million more than the House bill, and limit the cut to FSIS to $7 million.
The Senate bill also rejects the House bill’s proposed $687 million reduction in humanitarian international food assistance and $109 million cut to the international school lunch feeding program.
Rural development fares significantly better under the Senate bill, both overall and also for most NSAC priority programs. One exception is the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, for which the House would provide a total of $7.35 million, but the Senate only the $4 million already provided by the 2008 Farm Bill. The Value-Added Producer Grants program would remain at the FY 10 level of $20.4 million in the Senate bill versus a reduction to $18.9 million in the House bill. In our view, both programs are greatly underfunded relative to their effectiveness and their contributions in helping to grow rural jobs and relative to other programs in the rural development mission area.
The winners within agricultural research in the Senate bill are formula funds to the land grant universities, which increase in the House bill but increase even more in the Senate bill, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) which would increase by $17.5 million in the Senate bill to $280 million but decrease in the House bill by $34.7 million to $227.8 million. The $11 million increase proposed by the President for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education competitive grants program, an increase also contained in whole in the House appropriations bill approved by the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee and in part by the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year, was not included in whole or in part in the new Senate bill or in H.R. 1, a major disappointment and in our view a case of misplaced priorities.
Conservation technical assistance fares slightly better in the Senate bill, taking a $37 million cut relative to the $51 million cut in H.R. 1.
The Senate bill, like the House bill and the President’s request, would cut direct farm ownership loan availability by 27 percent to $475 million and cut direct farm operating loans by 10 percent to $900 million. We believe this is a serious mistake that may well mean many farmers will not be able to get credit, including the beginning and minority farmers whom these loans target in particular.
The Senate bill takes a different tack than the House bill on two other loan categories. Whereas the House bill would eliminate all funding for subsidized guaranteed farm operating loans, the Senate bill would just scale them back from $170 million funding level to $144 million level recommended by the President. But, whereas the House would continue funding for conservation loans at $110 million, the Senate bill would eliminate them altogether. We oppose elimination of direct conservation loans.
New Chart Up; More Information to Follow
We have posted a new appropriations chart on our appropriations webpage that compares the competing House and Senate bills and puts them in the context of previous year funding levels and the President’s requested levels.
We will likely post additional information on the newly emerged Senate bill in the days to come, and of course will continue to inform readers on the appropriations negotiations that will continue unabated through (and probably beyond) the new March 18 deadline when the current stop-gap measure expires.
Earlier this week, we posted on two letters we sent to the Senate, as well as our ongoing call for citizen action to oppose reckless cuts.