Budget: Senate Continuing Resolution
“Around 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday the Senate will hold three votes to advance the Senate continued spending resolution, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), which sets the same spending levels as a government funding measure approved by the House earlier this month.”
Yesterday’s update explained that, “The first vote will be on an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), which would move $60 million for military investments in biofuels to operations and maintenance. He said the funds would be better used to offset sequestration cuts to military operations than for energy projects.
Jonathan Weisman and Annie Lowrey reported in today’s New York Times that, “Republican senators, some of whom have cheered on the ‘sequestration’ cuts, spent Tuesday jostling for last-minute votes on their priorities. The new package of cuts cleared its biggest procedural hurdle Monday night, with a 63-to-35 vote to end debate, but failed to win approval Tuesday.
“It still appears likely to pass the Senate this week, given Monday’s vote, and to clear the House shortly after its final Senate vote. The legislation would replace the current stopgap spending law with a more detailed plan.
“On Tuesday, Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, shut down repeated efforts to get a final vote because he wanted the Federal Aviation Administration to protect control towers at rural airports. Senators Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, and Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, pressed for a vote to ensure meat inspectors would not be furloughed.”
The Times article added that, “The primary goal of the bill is to allow lawmakers to make distinctions among programs;” and stated that, “With the changes, the Agriculture Department’s nutrition program for woman, infants and children would receive an additional $250 million under the Senate bill, enough to serve 300,000 more people. That sum would help offset a $333 million sequester cut that the program must absorb over the next six months.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Meat, machismo and Moran all collided in the Senate on Tuesday, stalling action on a stopgap spending bill and threatening to push the long-awaited budget debate into the holiday recess beginning this weekend.”
Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “Moran is Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who spent the day pretty much objecting to everything unless he was promised a vote on his amendment to protect funding for air traffic controllers at rural airports in states like his own.
“This quickly triggered a macho standoff with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over who exactly was running the place. And that was not good news for meat — the packers, ranchers and poultry farmers who had been waiting patiently for a promised vote on their amendment to, well, beef up funding for the Food Safety Inspection Service.”
The Politico article stated that, “But having already won a critical cloture vote Monday night, Reid has the clock on his side. Tuesday evening he scheduled a second cloture vote for Wednesday morning in hopes of further strengthening his hand. And Democrats believe he can win passage Thursday morning even if Moran holds out that long.
“The big losers could then be the meat industry, if the standoff denies packers the chance to add money for inspectors. Already there is at least anecdotal evidence that the sequester is hurting cattle prices. And given the rancher and beef interests in Kansas, this has to be part of the equation for Moran as well.”
A statement yesterday from National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson indicated that, “NFU is deeply disappointed that Senate leadership is preventing votes on amendments to H.R. 933 – the stop-gap funding bill that includes agriculture and will run through Sept. 30. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., offered an amendment that would have removed language in H.R. 933 that prevents U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing basic fairness protections for poultry growers. However, this amendment won’t be able to be brought up, and the Senate bill will almost certainly include the offending language.”
Meanwhile, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The House of Representatives is poised to quickly approve the $984 billion Senate stopgap spending bill as soon as it makes its way out of the Senate.
“‘I like what I see so far,’ House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told The Hill on Tuesday.”
Senate 2014 Budget
Erik Wasson and Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Senate Democrats say they will force a final vote on their 2014 budget before leaving for Easter recess at the end of this week.
“But given the time constraints related to work on a six-month government funding resolution, this could mean dozens of rare Senate floor votes on Saturday and Sunday.”
The article explained that, “[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] on Tuesday tried to start 50 hours of debate on the budget while the clock was ticking down on the continuing resolution (CR). Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) blocked the move, in part to try to force a vote on an aviation provision he backs.
“Democrats had hoped to start floor work on the budget on Monday, but that was delayed because of work on the six-month 2013 spending bill.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing yesterday titled, “Understanding the Administration’s Decisions on Spending Cuts and Furloughs,” where USDA Budget Director Michael Young testified.
In part, Mr. Young noted that, “As Members are likely aware, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is in a position of potentially needing to furlough employees for up to 11 days as a result of sequestration. The interchange authority would not assist FSIS in addressing its shortfall because there are no other accounts from which the agency could transfer funds to offset the shortfall.”
Kellie Lunney reported yesterday at GovernmentExecutive Online that, “A House hearing on Tuesday, advertised as a discussion on how some agencies are implementing sequestration, focused more on partisan politics than on government management.”
The article added that, “Agriculture has to shave $2 billion from its books during the remainder of the fiscal year. Several programs administered by the Agriculture Department are exempt from sequestration, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Agriculture’s fiscal 2012 budget was $151.8 billion — the 5th largest budget in the federal government.
“Agriculture actually has some limited flexibility in managing the cuts, which allows transfers of up to 7 percent among certain accounts within an individual USDA agency. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday he would use that flexibility to avoid some administrative disruptions regarding certain Farm Service Agency payments. But, according to Young, the extra wiggle room Agriculture has would not negate the expected furloughs of thousands of food inspectors — a possibility that has riled both Republicans and Democrats.”
And Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The U.S. government will trim payments to 350,000 farmers by about $152 million to comply with automatic spending cuts that took effect at the start of this month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday.
“Vilsack said the money would come out of the $5 billion-a-year direct-payment subsidy, which is paid in the fall, to offset reductions due in three USDA programs that have already disbursed money to farmers.”
Mr. Abbott noted that, “Affected are the Milk Income Loss Contract subsidy to dairy farmers, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance program (SURE) and the Noninsured Assistance Program (NAP).”
House 2014 Budget
Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House took a step toward passing the 2014 budget resolution offered by House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), by approving a rule governing debate on the measure.
“Members voted 224-189 in favor of the rule, which sets up four hours of debate on the GOP budget, and allows a half hour of debate on most of the five alternative budgets that will also get votes.”
Also yesterday, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio) noted on the House floor that the GOP budget proposal includes cuts to Senior Farmers Markets Nutrition Coupons, which she argued would hurt the health of U.S. seniors (related video).
And Rep. Jim McGovern (R., Mass.) delivered his sixth floor speech (video replay) this Congressional session on hunger, and indicated that, “Once again, Chairman Ryan has proposed a budget that guts low-income programs. The Ryan budget not only does not End Hunger Now, it actually makes hunger in America worse than it is today.”
Rep. McGovern also tweeted yesterday that, “The Ryan budget actually cuts $135 billion from SNAP over 10 years. $135 billion. That’s not a haircut – that’s a meat ax.”
In addition, the USDA’s Economic Research Service noted yesterday at its Chart Detail page that, “The number of people receiving SNAP benefits is the smallest percentage increase (4 percent) since 2007.”
Budget: Debt Ceiling
Jonathan Strong reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “On the House floor and in front of the television cameras, the GOP’s agenda this week is all budget, all the time. But behind the scenes, the discussion at the highest levels has moved forward to the coming debt ceiling fight.
“GOP leadership met with a ‘working group’ of five influential conservatives on March 14 to discuss the issue and agreed to hold a special, extended closed-door meeting with the entire Republican Conference after the Easter recess to walk through the coming battle.
“Conservatives are coalescing around the idea of demanding entitlement reforms in the next debt ceiling fight.”
The article added that, “At a news conference Tuesday morning, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would talk with members after the Easter recess about the issue. ‘Our goal here is to get this country on a path to balance the budget over 10 years,’ he said.”
Farm Bill Issues
Reps. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) and Jim Costa (D., Calf.), along with nine other lawmakers, sent a letter yesterday to House Appropriations Committee leadership requesting that the appropriators fund livestock disaster programs which were reauthorized, but not funded, in the one year extension of the Farm Bill.
And University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Drought and Crop Insurance Loss Experience in 2012”) that, “Yield losses from the 2012 drought caused large crop insurance payments. In this post, 2012 loss ratios are shown for U.S. counties, thereby allowing areas of high loss experience to be identified. Higher loss ratios occurred in eastern Kansas, Missouri, central and southern Illinois, western Indiana, and western Kentucky. This area corresponds to the area where corn yield losses were most pronounced (see here and here). The areas of high losses in 2012 bear little relationship to typical losses across the United States.”
Darren Goode reported yesterday at Politico that, “A Republican aide to the House Energy and Commerce Committee said the panel plans to ‘review all aspects’ of the renewable fuels standard, ‘including its potential impact on gasoline prices.’ The committee plans to hold hearings on the renewable fuels mandate later this year, though nothing is scheduled yet, the aide said.
“The panel isn’t conducting a separate investigation into the RINs [ethanol renewable identification numbers] prices at the moment, the aide added.
“A spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the ethanol RIN prices are on that committee’s radar too.”
James Politi reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The top US trade official has vowed to battle for US farmers in trade talks with the EU and Japan.
“‘We take this very seriously,’ Demetrios Marantis, acting US trade representative (USTR), told lawmakers on the Senate finance committee, in response to a question from Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican.
“‘We have significant export success in agriculture. We face real challenges with both the EU and Japan – historic issues,’ Mr Marantis said. ‘We will continue to work with you to fight for US ag interests,’ he said” (a related FarmPolicy.com audio clip of this exchange from yesterday is available here (MP3- 2:15)).
The FT article explained that, “Mr Marantis’s efforts to reassure lawmakers came as the US is pressing ahead with negotiations for Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership , a proposed trade deal involving nearly a dozen nations that participants hope to conclude this year. The US is also preparing to launch formal negotiations with the EU on a transatlantic trade deal in the summer.
“There has been pressure in EU and Japan to exclude market access for US farm products from the talks. But US trade representative officials – facing pressure from members of Congress representing the country’s rural heartland – have been fighting back.”
Senator Chuck Grassley also pursued agricultural related issues at yesterday’s hearing. The Iowa Republican highlighted trade issues with Taiwan regarding pork in an exchange with Mr. Marantis (related FarmPolicy.com audio clip (MP3- 2:06)).
And a news release yesterday from Sen. Ag. Comm. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), which included a video clip from yesterday’s hearing, indicated that, “[Sen. Stabenow] co-Chair of the Bipartisan Senate Manufacturing Caucus, in a Senate Finance Committee hearing today pressed Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis to get tough on Japan following Japan’s declaration of its intent to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported yesterday that, “Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said on Tuesday he hoped to pass legislation this year to boost the White House’s ability to negotiate trade agreements, reviving a politically divisive measure that expired in 2007.
“Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis also said the administration was prepared to work with lawmakers to pass the bill known as ‘trade promotion authority,’ or TPA.”
AP writer Jim Abrams reported yesterday that, “The administration’s top trade official outlined President Barack Obama’s ambitious trade agenda to Congress Tuesday while cautioning that budget cuts are hampering efforts to negotiate new trade deals and enforce existing ones.”
Meanwhile, Reuters writer Jeff Mason reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama has asked Jeff Zients to stay on as acting budget director, the White House said Monday, a move that takes him out of the running to become U.S. trade chief.”
And Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported yesterday that, “Acting Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis on Tuesday got what appeared to be a bipartisan endorsement from top senators to be the next U.S. trade representative.”