Thursday, June 16, 2011

House Narrowly Passes Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Spending Bill, Cutting Conservation and WIC but Sparing Subsidies

The House today (June 16) 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 all of the Democrats in opposing the bill (roll call here).   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.  A link to the full text of the bill as approved by the House is available here.

The House-passed measure overall cuts $2.7 billion from USDA's Fiscal Year 2011 spending levels.  Several major conservation programs are cut below those current spending levels or Farm Bill-authorized levels.  These include a 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 the 21 amendments to the bill that were approved by the House during the two and one-half days of floor consideration.  Some of the more notable amendments, from a conservation and farm sustainability perspective, 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" imitative
  • 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.

In related news, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Stabenow (D-MI)  has stated that the Senate would not be supportive of House budget cuts to agriculture and nutrition programs, noting during a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden earlier this week that she is concerned about how agriculture and rural America are being treated during ongoing budget discussions.  Stabenow said budget negotiators led by the Vice President are using the House-passed budget resolution as a starting point for budget-cutting discussions.  That budget includes $48 billion in cuts to commodity and conservation programs over 10 years.  The Senator stressed that "These cuts are extreme and they are not the place to start on negotiations."

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