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Groups scramble to save ag spending

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 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

“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

Johnson said the farm groups will support taking their fair
share of spending cuts. And they aren’t telling Congress where to make them.

There are stark differences between what the House
Appropriations Committee has chosen to cut and what the Obama Administration
wants to support next year.

Much of the USDA budget, almost 80%, goes to food stamp and
nutrition programs. The House would trim $747 million from last year’s spending
on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children
(WIC), or $1 billion from what the President asked for this year. The
Administration wants to increase WIC spending in 2012.

That idea was mentioned by Obama as an example of his
differing views on where cuts should be made, Tuesday.

“If we’re cutting infant formula to poor kids, is that who
we are as a people,?” he asked.

Yet some agricultural programs would be trimmed as well. The
House would cut more than $200 million from last year’s budget for the National
Institute for Food and Agriculture and $185.1 million from the USDA’s
Agricultural Research Service. It does not propose cutting mandatory farm
commodity programs.

In the letter going to members of the House, the farm groups
will point out that the cuts would stunt progress in research, inhibit delivery
of farm programs and cause immediate layoffs at USDA.

“Many of these cuts would fall under the label of penny wise
and pound foolish,” Johnson said.

No one knows what the Democratic Senate will do with the
House budget cuts.

Thatcher expects the Senate to be less likely to cut as
much. But they’ll undoubtedly support some.

“I think they’re beginning to see the writing on the wall,”
she said. “You’ve got to have some cuts or you’re in trouble at home.”







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