Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fiscal Year 2012 Federal Appropriations Bill Update

Three separate, environmental and conservation-related, Fiscal Year 2012 spending bills are currently in various stages of making their way through the U.S. House. They include the Water and Energy, Agriculture, and Interior and Environment appropriations measures (see more detail below).  As the House continues its appropriations bill work, the Senate has been more deliberative on its end, waiting for the conclusion of two overarching prequels to its spending bill efforts: the development of a Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Resolution, and resolution of ongoing long-term deficit reduction negotiations between the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders.

With respect to the former issue, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced on June 29 that Democrats had reached agreement on a Fiscal Year 2012 budget plan, and that the plan may be announced sometime during the week of July 4.   Conrad’s proposal would reportedly cut more than $4 trillion from the Federal deficit over the next ten years.

Here is an update on the status of each House measure:

Water and Energy Spending Bill
On June 15 the full House Appropriations Committee approved a Fiscal Year 2012, $30.6 billion energy and water spending bill for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior water programs. The measure, expected to be considered (and passed) by the full House in July, includes over $1 billion to fund flood response activities and to restore flood protection structures (such as levees) related to this spring's Mississippi and Missouri River flooding. The bill also contains a controversial rider restricting Army Corps of Engineers' implementation of a new Administration Clean Water Act guidance.

The Committee approved the measure by a vote of 26-20, largely along party lines, following three-and-a-half-hours of discussion and amendment consideration. Only Republican Rep. Jeff Flake (AZ-6) joined with 19 Democrats in voting against the measure. The bill would cut $5.9 billion from the President's 2012 budget proposal and would cut around $1 billion from the Fiscal Year 2011 spending levels for the agencies. Under the bill's provisions the Department of Energy would receive $24.7 billion, the Army Corps $4.8 billion, and Department of Interior (Bureau of Reclamation) $934 million. The Army Corps funding level is actually slightly more than the $4.63 billion requested by the President in his 2012 budget proposal; not an unexpected outcome, given a Congressional history of adding spending for particular flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects.

Among the amendments considered by the Committee was one offered Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8), which would have removed from the bill a provision that blocks funding for the new Obama administration policy aimed at better-defining Clean Water Act protections over wetlands and streams. Rep. Moran's amendment failed to pass (on a vote of 21-27). The rider remains in the bill despite the urging of 15 major national outdoors and conservation groups that the provision be dropped (see the groups' June 13 letter to appropriators here - PDF file).

To view the Appropriations Committee (majority office) media release and summary of the bill, please see here. The Committee-passed version of the legislation is posted here. And the Committee report accompanying the legislation can be seen here (as a PDF file).

Agriculture Spending Bill
On June 16 the House narrowly passed the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA spending bill (H.R. 2112) by a vote of 217-201, with 19 Republicans joining every Democrat in opposing the bill. The bill provides for $125.5 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Agriculture (except for the US Forest Service), Farm Credit Administration, Farm Credit System Financial Assistance Corporation, Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Food and Drug Administration.

The House-passed measure cuts $2.7 billion overall from USDA's Fiscal Year 2011 spending levels. Several key conservation programs would be cut below current spending levels or Farm Bill-authorized levels, including cuts of $171 million to the Conservation Stewardship Program and $350 million to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and reductions in eligible acreage for sign up to the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program (by 64,200 acres and 96,000 acres, respectively). One of the biggest concerns for Democrats was the bill's $685 million in cuts to the Women, Infants and Children (or "WIC") nutrition program.

A Committee press release on the passed spending measure summarizes 21 amendments to the bill that were approved by the House during its two and one-half days of floor consideration. Some of the more notable amendments, from conservation and farm sustainability perspectives, include those that:
  • cut the USDA general administration account by 10% ($2.4 million) 
  • prohibit funds in the bill from being used for the USDA "know your farmer, know your food" initiative 
  • add $2 million to Agriculture Research Service 
  • prohibit funding for USDA regulations titled "Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaption" and 
  • transfer $3 million to the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program.
Several contentious amendment proposals were voted down during the bill debate, including a proposal to cut discretionary spending by five percent or more, and several proposed amendments that would have limited direct farm subsidy payments. Those included an amendment that would have set the farm subsidy-payment cap at $125,000, along with another one that would have lowered income subsidy payment eligibility to $250,000 adjusted gross income.

Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill
The 2012 Interior and Environment appropriations bill should be considered during a House Appropriation Committee’s Interior and Environment Subcommittee mark up meeting shortly after the House returns from its July 4 recess. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8) (Subcommittee Ranking Member) has indicated that the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill will make deep cuts to the land and water conservation fund and municipal water project (State Revolving Loan Funds) spending levels, based on Moran’s reading of a draft presented to him recently by Interior and Environment Subcommittee Chair Mike Simpson (R-ID-2).

The latest news on Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations efforts in Congress can be tracked on the respective House and Senate Appropriations Committee web pages, and at this Library of Congress web page.

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