Congress passed a stop-gap Continuing Resolution (CR) to continue funding federal programs through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2013. The CR was passed with the federal government on the verge of a crippling shutdown with the approaching expiration of the current CR on March 27. The House of Representatives passed the Senate’s continuing appropriations resolution on Thursday, March 21 with no changes to the bill, in one of the fastest moving turnarounds this year. The bill is going to President Obama for signature and final approval.
The final CR locks in $85 billion in across-the-board sequestration cuts through to the end of the 2013 fiscal year as well as additional cuts to mandatory spending. The CR is particularly devastating to conservation funding, as $562 million will be cut from conservation spending. These cuts include $195 million from the sequester and an additional $367 million from changes in mandatory program spending outlined in the appropriations bill. Mandatory program spending cuts to conservation will come from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Agricultural Management Assistance program, and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program specifically.
The final CR also includes two terrible policy riders, the GIPSA and biotech riders. The first limits the USDA’s ability to implement the contract fairness rule included in the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA). The rider also refuses poultry and livestock producers certain protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The second is the biotech rider, which limits the Federal Court’s ability to regulate genetically engineered crops. This means the rider strips “federal courts of the authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially hazardous GE crop while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fish and Wildlife Service, or other agencies assess those potential hazards” (full quote found in letter linked below). Organic farmers have faced devastating economic losses due to GE contamination of non-GE crops, the biotech rider will only make matters worse for our farmers. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced amendments to strike the GIPSA and biotech rider from the CR, However the Senate voted on March 19 to move the CR forward without bringing either of the amendments to the floor for a vote.
Additionally, the CR did not include funding for the 37+ critical programs that were left out of the Farm Bill extension, attached to the American Taxpayer Relief Act or 2012. These critical programs prioritize healthy food access, sustainable farming techniques, and equal support of small-scale, socially disadvantaged, beginning farmers and ranchers. These programs have been continuously left high and dry. It is unlikely that funds will be made available to these stranded programs for FY 2013, as the CR has replaced the appropriations process for this year.
One good piece of news, the CR restores funding to the Conservation Stewardship Program by fixing a technical error which prevented farmers from signing up for the program for the FY 2013. The CR also prevents furloughs for thousands of meat inspectors by transferring $55 million from another USDA program fund. These furloughs would have resulted in the temporary closure of some meatpackers, resulting in a temporary shortage of some products and higher prices.
However the broader budget battle is yet to come. The House and Senate Budget Committees have both released their budget resolutions outlining budgeting decisions for FY 2014. These non-binding budgets have both been passed by the full floors separately, and contain vastly different content. The House budget makes $184 billion in cuts to Farm Bill spending, $135 billion of which are cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and instructs eight committees to cut spending by $1 billion over 10 years. The Senate budget is the first budget put forward by Senate Democrats in three years. The budget makes $23 billion in cuts to Farm Bill spending, coming from commodity and crop insurance spending, and instructs the Finance Committee to generate $975 billion in savings over 10 years by reforming the tax code. Given that the House and Senate budgets are vastly different, it is improbable the two will attempt to reach agreement through a conference committee. The budgets will be a point of reference to the House, Senate, and White House as they begin discussions of a “grand bargain” budget deal and the upcoming debate on raising the debt ceiling (congressional approval to increase its borrowing authority) by May 18. President Obama is expected to release his budget April 8.
View the 115 members of Congress trying to derail GIPSA who have received over $48.6 million in financial contributions from agribusinesses
Read the full letter in support of the Tester Amendment urging the Senate Appropriations to strike the biotech rider