Budget, Policy Issues
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture resumes hearings this week and will garner additional details regarding USDA budget requests from three Agency Under Secretaries.
On Tuesday the Subcommittee will hear from Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, and on Wednesday, Under Secretary for Rural Development Lisa Mensah will testify before the Subcommittee.
Michael T. Scuse, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service and Brandon Willis, the Administrator for the Risk Management Agency will be at the Subcommittee on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee will hear perspective on USDA’s budget from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Tuesday.
Recall that last month Sec. Vilsack presented testimony at the House Appropriations Ag Subcommittee (February 25) , as well as the House Ag Committee (February 11) and Senate Ag Committee (February 24).
In addition to the USDA budgetary hearings, the full House Ag Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the importance of trade to U.S. agriculture, while the House Ag Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, “To review the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ proposed rule and its impact on rural America.”
As these hearings regarding the USDA budget and ag policy issues are going on this week, the House and Senate Budget Committees will also be holding important meetings that have potential ramifications for the Farm Bill.
Recall that an update on Thursday at FarmPolicy.com explored recent budget related developments that could potentially have significant implications for the Farm Bill– the update can be viewed here: “Budget Issues Move to the Front Burner- Potential Farm Bill Implications.”
More recently, Jordain Carney reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “Senate committees are laying the groundwork for the budget next week.
“Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said this week that the Budget Committee will mark up a budget proposal on Wednesday and Thursday. Sanders, the ranking member of the committee, said Democrats will likely offer ‘very strong amendments’ during markups next week.”
And an update on Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog (“The Farm Bill Reloaded”) explained that, “The House Budget Committee is expected to markup the fiscal year 2016 budget resolution on Wednesday March 18. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to follow suit the next day. Assuming the measures pass out of committee they will be debated and voted on in the full House and Senate the following week.
“While the chairmen of the two Committees have kept details of their proposed budget bills very close to the vest, it is widely expected that they will include ‘budget reconciliation’ instructions to various committees of Congress, including the Agriculture Committees. Budget reconciliation is a congressional process used primarily as a means of reducing government spending for mandatory programs.
“It is still unclear exactly what the reconciliation instructions to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees will be, but it has become increasingly clear that there will be instructions to the Agriculture Committees.”
The NSAC update added that, “The rumor in D.C. is that the Committees will be instructed to cut $20 billion, over 10 years, from the 2014 Farm Bill. This amount would be eerily similar to the House’s original 2013 proposal for $20 billion in cuts to the food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“Whatever the dollar figure is, it doesn’t come with any dictates on what programs to cut. It will be up to the two Agriculture Committees to determine what parts of the farm bill to cut.”
Also on Friday, Kimberly Leonard reported at USNews Online that, “The days of mystery meat and soda-dispensing vending machines may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that the new era of school meals and snacks hasn’t come without its own challenges.
“Nutrition guidelines for schools, which have gradually gone into effect since Congress passed the Michelle Obama-backed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, can be logistically and financially difficult for already strapped district budgets.”
The article noted that, “In response, earlier this month 1,000 members of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school cafeteria workers and companies that supply food and equipment to districts, lobbied Congress for more funding and flexibility when it comes to school meals.
“Critics have called out the group for attempting to roll back quality nutrition standards, but the members maintain they are asking for a more realistic approach.”
William Mauldin reported on Sunday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Sweeping trade deals of the past—with Canada and Mexico in 1993, for instance, or China in 2000—presented big upsides and big risks for a broad swath of U.S. companies.
“By contrast, the trade bloc President Barack Obama is trying to hammer out with 11 Pacific countries shows how much smaller both the benefits and perils of trade liberalization have become.
“Complicating the pact’s path, meanwhile, are a host of accompanying fights over issues like environmental regulations and drug-pricing rules.”
The Journal article stated that, “Washington already has trade agreements with more than half the countries in the TPP, among them Singapore, Australia, Peru and Chile… Administration officials and business groups are saying the TPP would lower traditional barriers at the border but also open up U.S.-dominated services industries, boost intellectual-property protection for Hollywood movies and Silicon Valley software, and set rules on the international free flow of data, foreign investment and the environment. A successful deal would also lower regular agricultural and food barriers in Japan and other countries, raising profits for American farmers, an increasingly small but influential part of the electorate.”
Christopher Doering reported in Sunday’s Des Moines Register that, “Congress is wrestling with whether to grant President Barack Obama authority to negotiate potentially lucrative trade deals that could be a boon to an Iowa economy already dependent on trade to support thousands of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the state each year.
“Exports provide a major boost to Iowa’s economy, helping a host of industries ranging from agriculture and construction equipment manufacturers to bioscience and aerospace companies.
“The state shipped a record $15.1 billion in goods and services last year — up sharply from $6.4 billion a decade ago, according to the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration. Trade now supports more than 80,000 jobs in the state.”
The article noted that, “Without trade, [Gov. Terry Branstad] said, the state’s unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in December would likely be higher, while agriculture, manufacturing and other industries in Iowa would be far less profitable.”
Sunday’s article added that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said recently that agricultural exports have been among the biggest beneficiaries of trade, representing 9.2 percent of the record $1.64 trillion in U.S. goods exported in 2014, compared to 6.6 percent in 2000. Overall, exports are equal to about 30 percent of U.S. farm sales.
“‘Without exports, American agriculture would not be a particularly profitable venture,’ he said.”
A FarmPolicy.com update on Saturday looked more closely at the persistence of California’s ongoing drought; while an update on Sunday morning at FarmPolicy.com contained recent news items regarding bird flu issues in the U.S.