The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Crop insurance funding preserved, but other ag programs slashed in House bill

A fiscal year 2012 funding bill approved today 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, international food aid programs would lose money, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission would not get the funding it was expecting to enforce the Dodd-Frank financial services bill, and USDA could not move forward with a proposed rule change for the program 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 Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., noted that the subcommittee had gotten a $17.25 billion budget allocation and had used exactly that amount.

“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. The gross national debt is now 97 percent of GDP and we are rapidly becoming the next Greece, Spain, or Portugal. Internationally, this weakens our standing as a global leader and our lenders, such as China, may seek to restructure our debt if we don’t take care of it ourselves. Domestically, it hurts job creation, smothers the private sector and erodes some of our basic personal freedoms.”

Kingston noted to 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.

Democrats said they understand Kingston’s difficulties in writing the bill, but they were not pleased with the result.

“You don’t need to lecture me on the debt crisis,” said House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif.

After the markup, 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 cut, 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 late Monday, but there were a couple 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 today that “such sums as needed” would be available for the crop insurance program, which is the usual way that mandatory agriculture programs are handled.

Bill O’Conner, a former House Agriculture Committee policy director who now works for McLeod, Watkinson and Miller, a law firm that represents crop insurers, explained to reporters how the drafting error occurred.

O’Conner said that the money necessary for the crop insurance program will be available, but from a budget scoring point, only $3.1 billion will be counted toward fiscal year 2012. A provision in the 2008 farm bill that designates when the government collects crop insurance premiums and when it makes payments was written so that the expenditure for budget purposes would be lower in fiscal 2012, he said.

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., although 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 CFTC money to enforce the Dodd-Frank bill. Noting that the CFTC got $136 million or 44 percent less than the Obama administration requested, Farr said, “If there was a place not to cut it is reform of Wall Street.” DeLauro also said that the cut to food safety programs “rolls back years of progress.”

House Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks, D-Wash, said that the spending level for the special nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC would be below the projected level needed. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the House Republican proposal would force WIC to turn away 325,000 to 475,000 eligible low-income women and young children next year.

But Kingston maintained that several USDA funds can be used to make up the shortfall. He also noted that last year when the Democrats were in charge of Congress they used money from the WIC account to pay for the settlement of the Pigford II discrimination law suit brought by black farmers against USDA.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, objected to a provision that would stop the Agriculture Department from implementing a new rule governing the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule on livestock on poultry. The rule has been the subject of intense debate among livestock producers, but Kaptur said the provision would stop USDA from doing a job mandated in the 2008 farm bill.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., proposed an amendment to shift funding from a housing program to USDA’s program to bring high-speed Internet service to rural America, but Kingston opposed it and all members but Lummis appeared to vote against it on a voice vote.

The markup of the Agriculture bill in the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled for May 31.