After passage of a new federal law to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, agriculture and specialty crop interests may not have a lot of headroom in the creation of a new farm bill.
The Budget Control Act of 2011, signed into law by President Obama Aug. 2, institutes an immediate cap on discretionary spending. Further, the law creates a joint select committee on deficit reduction. That group, made up of six members of the House and six members of the Senate, will be charged putting forward proposal to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion from fiscal years 2012 to 2021.
The committee must produce legislative language that Congress can vote on and pass, without amendment, by Dec. 23. If that plan fails, then the federal budget would be cut equally across all agencies and programs, with limited exceptions such as unemployment aid and benefits for low-income Americans.
Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, said agriculture programs won’t be affected by the initial cap on discretionary spending. However, he said the deficit reduction committee — yet to be named — may give agriculture committees a number to work with in cutting farm programs.
“I still think the clock is ticking on the farm bill,” Guenther said. “They may to rewrite the farm bill this fall and into the winter and that’s the result of the deficit reduction agreement.”
The identities of the 12 lawmakers on the joint deficit reduction committee could be pivotal to the direction of spending cuts, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, Cuts to mandatory programs are supposed to occur in 2013, while the current farm bill expires in 2012.
“This will be very challenging for the House and Senate agriculture committees in writing a new farm bill with this overhang of spending cut targets,” he said.
For fiscal year 2012, projected discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Agriculture was $28 billion, compared with spending for mandatory programs at $117 billion. In USDA, Quarles said that most specialty crop farm bill programs were from mandatory spending, though some pest and disease exclusion programs have been from discretionary funds.