Budget, Appropriations Issues Continue to Unfold- Agriculture, Farm Bill

This week, the House Budget Committee unveiled, and subsequently passed, a 2018 fiscal year budget resolution.  Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved its fiscal year 2018 agricultural appropriations measure.  Today’s update provides additional details on these budgetary developments as the legislative process advances in anticipation of the next Farm Bill.

House Budget Committee Resolution

An update earlier this month at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog explained that, “Each year, Congress establishes the budget parameters for both discretionary (appropriated) and mandatory spending through a resolution (not a law).”

The NSAC update added that, “[T]he majority party in both bodies [House and Senate] desperately wants a budget resolution to pass – they plan to include in it the legislative fast track rules they have planned for tax reform or tax cut legislation later this year.”

Early on Tuesday, the House Budget Committee released its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal; that morning Politico’s Morning Agriculture reported that, “[The measure] calls for $10 billion in spending cuts to agricultural programs over the next decade. The 63-page budget plan doesn’t stipulate how the House Agriculture Committee should find the savings, but it does recommend reining in SNAP spending by promoting ‘state flexibility,’ without providing further detail.”

On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee held a markup of the budget proposal, and Reuters news reported that, “The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives took a new step toward tax reform legislation on Wednesday by approving a fiscal 2018 budget resolution that would allow the Senate to pass a sweeping tax code overhaul without Democratic support.

“The House Budget Committee voted 22-14 along party lines to send the measure to the floor of the House for consideration by the full chamber, a day after the $4 trillion spending blueprint was unveiled.”

The Reuters article explained that, “But it was not clear how the measure would fare in the full House, where it could become embroiled in Republican infighting between conservatives and moderates similar to the political tug-of-war that caused healthcare legislation to disintegrate in the Senate this week.

Both the House and Senate must approve a budget agreement to unlock a legislative tool called reconciliation, which would allow Republicans to pass tax legislation with a simple majority in the Senate. Republicans control the chamber by only a 52-48 margin.”

More specifically with respect to the agricultural portion of the House Budget Committee’s action, a news release on Tuesday from House Ag Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) indicated that, “[Rep. Peterson] today made the following statement regarding the Republican budget resolution for fiscal year 2018. The proposal includes $10 billion in cuts to Agriculture Committee programs, specifically citing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

‘The cuts as outlined in the Majority’s budget resolution will make it much more difficult, if not near impossible, to pass a new farm bill. Singling out the SNAP program will kill the farm bill.’

The release added that, “This is more of a political exercise than a serious debate but it could have a very real impact on the fate of the farm bill. There are ways for us to work together but this isn’t it. I believe there are areas of SNAP that can and should be reformed and where we can reach bipartisan consensus. These policy decisions are best left to the Agriculture Committee during our farm bill debate.”

“USDA’s total outlays for 2018 are estimated at $140 billion. Roughly 82 percent of outlays, about $117 billion, are for mandatory programs – providing services required by laws other than annual appropriations acts. These outlays include crop insurance, nutrition assistance programs, farm commodity and trade programs, and a number of conservation programs.” (USDA FY2018 Budget Summary, https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USDA-Budget-Summary-2018.pdf).

And Jerry Hagstrom and Zachary Silver reported this week at DTN that, “If the House Agriculture Committee has to cut $10 billion from its programs, there would be pressure to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest food assistance program.

“But House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said at the conclusion of a hearing Tuesday, ‘It has been noted throughout the hearing this morning that the budget resolution released this morning calls for $10 billion in reconciliation reductions from the Agriculture Committee.’

“‘Several folks have offered suggestions in the press over the past few weeks for ways to cut SNAP to achieve those savings. I want to remind everyone that it is up to this committee to decide — the Agriculture Committee — how any required savings would be achieved — not the Budget Committee and not folks who are freelancing in the press.

“‘And I would also note that we are only required to respond to reconciliation instructions that make it through the Senate and into a conference joint budget resolution,’ Thompson said. ‘So for the time being, we are going to keep our eye on the ball, and that means staying focused on the next farm bill.'”

Federal expenditures on the SNAP program have dropped over the past few years as participation in the program has declined (https://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap).

Appropriations

Note that Niv Elis reported recently at The Hill Online that, “Under normal order, the budget committee of each chamber is meant to produce top-line spending figures before the appropriators dole out the funds to various agencies and programs.”

As it turns out, the House Budget Committee passed its measure this week at about the same time the House Appropriations Committee completed work on its 12 funding bills.

A tweet from Appropriations Committee member Martha Roby (R., Ala..) on Thursday stated that the Committee had approved all 12 funding bills.

Recall that earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill for USDA.

And earlier this week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture approved its FY2018 Ag Appropriations Bill.  Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testified before the Subcommittee back in June and discussed issues associated with crop insurance, federal agricultural related research, and dairy issues with Canada.

On Thursday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee passed the ag appropriations measure.

A news release from the Committee stated that, “The Senate Committee on Appropriations today approved the FY2018 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill with funding for programs that support American agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs.

The bill provides $145.4 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, $4.85 billion above the President’s budget request and $7.9 billion below the FY2017 enacted level.  It contains $20.525 billion in discretionary funding, $352 million below the FY2017 enacted level, and includes $124.9 billion in mandatory funding.  It was approved 31-0.”

The news update included a list of “highlights,” including:

Assistance for Cotton Producers – The bill includes a provision which seeks to address the ongoing economic challenges facing U.S. cotton producers, and the entire U.S. industry, by designating cotton as an ‘other oilseed’ under Title I of the 2014 Farm Bill.  This would allow cotton producers to participate in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program just like all other major U.S. commodity producers.

In a statement regarding this development yesterday, Sen. Ag Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) noted in part that, “I’m very pleased to see that this bill includes a bipartisan agreement to support both dairy and cotton farmers. I appreciate the leadership of Senator Cochran and Senator Leahy, and I look forward to supporting their efforts as this bill moves forward.”

As a side note, recall that back in May, a deal to fund the federal government through September, did not include assistance for programs sought by cotton and dairy producers.  House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) expressed disappointment with this result and noted at that the time that, “To its credit, the entire cotton industry came together on a plan to fix what is broken with respect to the safety net for cotton farmers. It was thoroughly vetted, strongly supported, and entirely paid for.

“The dairy industry, too, has been working hard to restore the safety net for our nation’s dairy farmers. Unfortunately, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) insisted on an $800 million plan that was cobbled together last minute, unvetted, and totally unpaid for, and when they did not get their way, they blocked critical relief for both cotton and dairy farmers.”

A news release yesterday from the National Cotton Council indicted that, “National Cotton Council Chairman Ronnie Lee, a Georgia producer and ginner, said, ‘The National Cotton Council thanks Chairman Cochran (R-MS) for his strong leadership on this issue to help ensure a cottonseed policy can be included as part of the final agriculture appropriations measure considered by Congress later this year. The cottonseed policy, if enacted, would apply beginning with the 2018 cotton crop, the last year of the current farm bill, and would help address the significant economic challenges currently facing America’s cotton farming families.'”

And a National Milk Producers Federation news update yesterday stated that, “The appropriations bill makes two important changes to the [dairy Margin Protection Program] that were included in NMPF’s farm bill proposal: It would reduce premiums paid by dairy farmers for the first 5 million pounds of milk coverage in the program, as well as change the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s calculation of the actual margin from a two-month average margin to monthly.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.