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Groups scramble to save ag spending

DANIEL LOOKER 02/15/2011 @ 4:18pm Business Editor

On the day that President Barack Obama defended his administration’s proposed cuts to federal spending in 2012, farm groups in Washington were fighting to save agricultural programs from even deeper cuts in this year’s 2011 budget.

Our contacts at the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union told Agriculture.com Tuesday that those groups and some 20 others are drafting a letter to all of the members of the House of Representatives, asking that Congress spare the USDA and FDA from cuts that would be two to three times as large as those made to other federal agencies and departments.

“We think that we took an unfair share of the cuts,” said Mary Kay Thatcher, a veteran lobbyist for Farm Bureau in Washington.

Like everyone, Thatcher has glanced at Obama’s proposal for the next fiscal year that starts in October.

“Every year we get all excited about the President’s budget for about two days, and then you never hear about it again,” Thatcher said. “I do think it’s dead on arrival [in Congress]. In essence, it doesn’t look that different from last year’s and it didn’t go anywhere then.”

It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House, or which party controls Congress, that’s how Washington works.

This year, however, freshmen members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are serious about cutting the deficit, and they’ve held the GOP leadership to a commitment to cut $100 billion from the President’s 2011 budget. That budget was never passed. The federal government is still running on a continuing resolution that extends spending at the 2010 level. The continuing resolution runs out on March 4. Congress is struggling to pass another resolution that will cut 2010 spending by more than $60 billion for the rest of this year.

After the cuts, spending overseen by the House Agriculture Committee (which is also responsible for the Food and Drug Administration) will total just over $23 billion, said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.

It sounds like a lot, but it represents only 2.3% of the entire $1.028 trillion in discretionary spending in the bill the House is considering, said Johnson. To get to that number, the House Appropriations Committee trimmed $5.2 billion from the $28.5 billion ag budget of 2010.

That’s a cut of 18%, roughly three times as much as the House is considering cutting nondefense discretionary spending this year, he said.

“If we’re going to have cuts, let’s at least have them be roughly across the board,” Johnson said.

And the House isn’t giving agriculture credit for some $6 billion that the Obama Administration cut from support for crop insurance last year, with the intention of counting $4 billion for deficit reduction, he added.

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