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Why USDA's budget is extremely dead

It doesn’t matter which party controls the White House, USDA budgets have ideas that are often ignored by Congress, earning  them a “dead on arrival”  reputation every year.

But the USDA budget released Monday by the Obama Administration is deader than normal.

First, the 2013 budget proposals would likely be changed by a farm bill written this year, if Congress heeds the call of more than 80 farm groups for action this year.

Second,  the deficit trimming legislation passed last year requires $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts for the federal government. Those cuts, called sequestration, also start in 2013 for USDA spending. But Monday's budget excludes those cuts.

“The numbers aren’t really real because they don’t reflect sequestration,” says Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The entire federal budget released today, not just USDA budget, ignores sequestration, even though the President has said he supports it.

The Administration has said it has no plans to propose its own farm bill, which the Bush Administration did before the 2008 law was passed. (Much of it, too, was ignored.) Still, Hoefner says the 2013 Budget could have given the Administration a chance to offer more policy ideas than they have.

“This was their opportunity to make some kind of Farm Bill statement,” he told Monday.

His group and others that want strong support for conservation spending in the Farm Bill, were disappointed that the Administration’s new budget continues to advocate making more cuts to those programs.

According to the Coalition’s reading of the budget, “With respect to FY 2013 farm bill conservation program spending, the Obama budget proposes to layer still further cuts of $432 million on top of the more than $1.25 billion in farm bill conservation cuts enacted as part of the FY [fiscal year] 2011 and FY 2012 appropriations bills.  All of the proposed cuts would come from working lands conservation programs that help farmers protect natural resources and reward farmers for the environmental benefits they produce.”

As it has did last year, the Administration proposes eliminating direct payments.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters Monday that the Administration will work with Congress to maintain a strong crop insurance program and to reshape the safety net for farmers when to offer protection when it’s needed.

“We need a safety net. That safety net is going to change but we’re still going to have one,” Vilsack said.

As part of its effort to trim spending, the current budget from the Administration does trim farmers’ subsidies for crop insurance premiums by 2%.

“Both the commodity payment and crop insurance proposals fail to target the cuts, and thus their impact would be felt most heavily by small and medium-size farms,” Hoefner’s group said Monday.

In last year’s budget, the Administration did propose caps for commodity program payments. They didn’t’ get into that much detail this year, Hoefner told

And, although the crop insurance subsidy cuts for farmers might appear small, there is a chance that if sequestration is allowed to cut farm programs across the board, that farmers will see bigger cuts in support for their premiums, Hoefner said. That’s because crop insurance now accounts for the most spending in the commodity title of the Farm Bill.

One farm group, National Farmers Union, also had an early response of disappointment with some parts of the USDA budget.

“The president’s budget proposal for FY [fiscal year] 2013 would cut agriculture programs by $32 billion over ten years, which is $9 billion [more] than the agreement reached late last year in a bipartisan, bicameral manner by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees,” NFU president, Roger Johnson, said in a statement Monday. “Agriculture has and continues to do more than its fair share toward reducing the federal deficit. Efforts to cut even more by slashing support for family farmers should be directed elsewhere...”

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