The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Peterson: Resolution might not mean farm bill spending cuts

The House-passed 2012 budget resolution may not require that the 2012 House version of the farm bill spend less than the current farm bill, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in interview last week.

Peterson said House budget experts had concluded that even though the resolution cut the funding allocation for Agriculture and other committees in fiscal year 2012, it would not apply to new legislation — including the 2012 farm bill — because the resolution did not contain budget reconciliation instructions.

That viewpoint would indicate that the new farm bill could be written using the baseline in effect at the time of its writing, Peterson said, rather than with the cut of $178 billion over 10 years, as indicated by the budget resolution. But Peterson added that he will not be fully confident that this analysis is correct until he sees how the House Republican majority proceeds.

Nevertheless, Peterson’s staff sent fellow Democrats a budget guidance memo that provided some details of the analysis.

On June 1, 2011, the memo noted, the House “deemed” its fiscal year 2012 budget resolution, H. Con. Res. 34, to be in effect in the House until a conference report on the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2012 is adopted.

In deeming the resolution, the House established 302(a) funding allocations for the Agriculture committee that was below its Congressional Budget Office baseline. In years when reconciliation instructions requiring committees to reduce spending below their CBO baselines are included in the budget resolution, having a 302(a) allocation lower than the baseline by the reconciled amount is typical, but the fiscal year 2012 budget resolution did not include reconciliation instructions, the memo said.

House budget experts contacted at the time the budget resolution was introduced told committee staff that new legislation brought to the floor by a committee whose allocation had been reduced would have to reduce spending below CBO baseline levels by an amount sufficient to cause total spending for all of a committee’s programs — both existing and new — to be no more than its 302(a) allocation.

As the CBO baseline represents the costs of continuing current programs, this requirement would have meant that to take up a new farm bill, costs of current programs would need to be cut $178 billion over 10 years — the amount that Agriculture’s 302(a) allocation is below the March 2011 CBO baseline.

After the resolution was deemed, the House budget experts have advised that new legislation will only need to meet a requirement that it not increase spending above current CBO baseline levels, the memo said. But the memo also reminded members that the new House cut-go rules require that increased spending for one program must be offset by reduced spending on another program, and no increases in revenue offsets can be used.

“The current guidance is a common-sense approach, as the $3.5 trillion in cuts for 10 of 16 authorizing committees that would have been required under the initial guidance would have effectively shut down new legislation in the House,” Peterson's staff commented.

“But it raises the question as to why 302(a) allocations were set below CBO baselines in the first place if committees are not required to comply with the allocation levels. If we are to get serious on reducing federal deficits and federal debt by reducing program costs, budget reconciliation with its long-established, time-tested procedures is the proper vehicle for doing so."