Alan K. Ota reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The Senate is expected to defeat Thursday competing Democratic and Republican alternatives to the $85.3 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin Friday.
“Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposes to replace the percentage cuts imposed by a provision of the 2011 debt limit agreement with a package of revenue increases and alternative savings [Congressional Budget Office score of this plan available here, while a more detailed discussion of the specific agricultural provisions of this package from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) can be found here].
“Senate Republicans settled late Wednesday on a sequester substitute that would give President Barack Obama until March 15 to send Congress an alternative package of targeted spending cuts. Lawmakers could block the president’s plan only by adopting within seven days a resolution of disapproval that would require Obama’s signature or the support of a veto-proof majority.”
The NSAC noted yesterday that, “Unlike the Democratic plan, the GOP plan would not address the Farm Bill.”
Alan K. Ota reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “A split among Senate Republicans over what to propose as a substitute for the sequester has complicated plans for Senate votes this week on competing GOP and Democratic deficit reduction proposals.
“A GOP plan to grant federal agencies more flexibility to implement $85 billion in fiscal 2013 spending worries some Republicans, who fear the White House would use the measure to circumvent congressional budgeting authority.
“Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture Tuesday on a motion to proceed to a Democratic alternative to the automatic budget cuts scheduled to go into effect Friday. Republicans are expected to introduce their alternative Wednesday, if their differences are resolved over whether to give the Obama administration more flexibility to make the $85 billion in fiscal 2013 cuts or embrace an alternative plan of spending cuts similar to sequester replacement legislation the House passed last year.”
The article pointed out that, “[S]ome Republicans have qualms about a proposal by James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., to give the administration flexibility to distribute the scheduled spending cuts. ‘There are some members of our conference who are suspicious of the administration taking advantage of such flexibility to punish their political enemies,’ said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.”
House Agriculture Committee Member Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) spoke on the House floor today about hunger issues in the United States.
In part, Rep. McGovern noted that, “Once again, I rise to talk about the issue of hunger in America. There are over 50 million Americans who go hungry each year. That’s about one in every six Americans who don’t know where their meal is coming from on any given day. Mr. Speaker, in the richest, most prosperous country in the world, that is unconscionable.”
At a GOP news conference on the sequester issue on Monday, a reporter pointed out to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) that Direct Payments had been included in sequester alternatives as a source for potential spending cuts on both sides of Capitol Hill.
In response, Speaker Boehner indicated that cutting Direct Payments was an “option” with respect to a sequester alternative and that it could be “someplace to start.”
Rosalind S. Helderman reported yesterday at The Post Politics Blog (Washington Post) that, “Congress has officially returned to business after a week-long recess, but there is no new sign of serious negotiations to avert sequestration on Friday.”
Yesterday’s update indicated that, “A Senate Republican aide said Monday that party Senate leaders plan to advance competing sequestration measures on Wednesday. By unanimous consent, both sides have agreed that either measure would need 60 votes to proceed, meaning that each measure is bound to fail.
“The Democratic version would delay the sequester until January, paid for in part by reducing agricultural subsidies and raising taxes on those making more than $1 million a year. The aide said the specifics of the Republican version would be unveiled later Monday and that it would leave the cuts in place but would allow more flexibility in how to implement them.”
Jack Healy reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “After enduring last summer’s destructive drought, farmers, ranchers and officials across the parched Western states had hoped that plentiful winter snows would replenish the ground and refill their rivers, breaking the grip of one of the worst dry spells in American history. No such luck.”
The article explained that, “This week’s blizzard brought a measure of relief to the Plains when it dumped more than a foot of snow. But it did not change the basic calculus for forecasters and officials in the drought-scarred West. Ranchers are straining to find hay — it is scarce and expensive — to feed cattle. And farmers are fretting about whether they will have enough water to irrigate their fields.
“‘It’s approaching a critical situation,’ said Mike Hungenberg, who grows carrots and cabbage on a 3,000-acre farm in Northern Colorado. There is so little water available this year, he said, that he may scale back his planting by a third, and sow less thirsty crops, like beans.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “If members of Congress don’t like how USDA has to implement budget cuts under the sequester, then they should stop writing the U.S. agriculture secretary letters and instead write a new bill.
“That was U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s advice Wednesday as he talked to reporters about sequester cuts during the USDA Outlook Forum just outside of Washington.
“‘It’s a bad, bad policy and I think when it was passed the assumption was it was so bad that folks would be reasonable and reach a consensus on an alternative,’ Vilsack said. ‘And that’s what they should do … Rather than write letters and ask me to do things I can’t do, how about writing a bill and getting it passed?’”
Damian Paletta reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Federal workers are expected to begin taking unpaid leave by late March or early April if the government absorbs $85 billion in spending cuts set to start March 1, according to estimates from different agencies.
“Even though the process begins March 1, many federal agencies must notify employees 30 days before beginning furloughs. That means the eventual impact of the cuts at many agencies could be slow-moving and give Congress and the White House more time to negotiate an alternative to the cuts—something both sides say they favor.”
The Journal article pointed out that, “Also causing consternation is a dispute about whether federal agencies have more flexibility than they claim to redirect the effects of the cuts.
“Federal law requires U.S. meat and poultry inspectors to be on site when plants are operating. The American Meat Institute, a group that represents the majority of the meat and poultry industry, has recently pleaded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to furlough inspectors at meat plants, worried that the plants would be temporarily shut down and production would halt. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a letter to the organization last week that such furloughs would be a ‘last option’ but ultimately unavoidable.
“USDA has said that to account for a $51 million cut in its food-safety branch, it plans to furlough meat inspectors for 15 days at more than 6,000 meat-production facilities in the U.S.”
Steven T. Dennis reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Back at the White House after his golf weekend in Florida, President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning took sharp aim at a Congress on recess just 10 days before what he called ‘brutal’ across-the-board cuts take effect.
“Speaking in front of a backdrop of ‘first responders,’ Obama warned that the cuts would put thousands of people on the unemployment rolls and might cause the unemployment rate to tick up again if Congress fails to act.”
A news release yesterday from University of Missouri Extension indicated that, “There is a lot of uncertainty about farm policy in Washington, and current budget debates will determine whether there will be a farm bill and what it will look like, said Pat Westhoff, director of the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.
“‘The sequester that is scheduled to take effect on March 1 will cut many spending programs, and some people have proposed farm programs cuts as well as other programs to try and avoid some parts of the sequester and pay for delaying it,’ said Westhoff at Ag Unlimited, an annual banquet held by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
“‘Other things that are coming up are appropriations bills for fiscal year 2013 that need to be resolved fairly soon, and the specter of the debt limit will have to be discussed,’ he said.”
Yesterday’s news item noted that, “‘Things are changing by the hour, but it appears that getting a five-year farm bill this year is far from a sure thing,’ Westhoff said. ‘There is maybe a one-in-four chance of passing a bill that looks sort of like the bills that were discussed in Congress last year; a one-in-four chance of passing something that is much more severe in terms of budget cuts affecting agriculture; and maybe a 50-50 chance of simply extending current legislation yet another year.’”
Ian Swanson and Alexander Bolton reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The question in Washington is no longer whether the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester will be implemented: It’s when and even if the spending reductions will ever be shut off.”
The update noted that, “‘We’re pretty far away because we have revenue in ours,’ said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), commenting on the daylight between Democratic and GOP leaders.
“Cardin was commenting on a proposal unveiled Thursday by Senate Democrats that would thwart the first $85 billion in spending cuts set to hit government on March 1.”
Besides increased revenue, the proposal from Senate Democrats also cuts direct payments for farmers, as does a package from House Democrats that would also forestall sequestration.
At a news conference on Friday with Democratic House Leaders, Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) stated that, Direct Payments “serve no useful purpose right now” [related video clip].
On Friday, House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen noted that Direct Payments “serve no useful purpose right now,” while discussing sequester issues at a news conference with House Democratic Leaders.
He explained that a plan to avoid the sequester drafted by Senate Democrats, and a separate plan put together by House Democrats, both include the elimination of direct payments.
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Senate Democrats said Thursday they will move ahead with a roughly $110 billion budget package — evenly divided between new tax revenues and spending cuts — to forestall the across-the-board sequester cuts due to take effect March 1…The Nevada Democrat [Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid] hopes to bring the bill to the floor the week of Feb. 25 when senators have returned from the Presidents Day recess.”
Mr. Rogers noted that, “[The bill contains:] $27.5 billion in net spending reductions from farm programs. About $31 billion would be saved by cutting direct cash payments to producers — a system that is widely criticized at a time of high farm income. And to win support from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the bill reallocates about $3.5 billion of these savings to extend farm programs left hanging by the White House and Senate Republicans in the New Year’s tax deal.”