(UPDATED COVERAGE, MAY 26) Hitting agricultural research programs and possibly funding for new food safety legislation hard, the House Appropriations Committee released its proposed 2012 agriculture appropriations bill.
The legislation cuts spending by $2.6 billion compared with the previous year and is $5 billion below President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2012. The Senate must also create a budget bill, and both bills must be passed before a final budget bill is resolved.
“It is the beginning of the process,” said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, about the May 23 appropriations bill release.
Quarles said his initial reading of the bill reveals no cuts to the Market Access Program. The export promotion program, providing $200 million in export promotion funds to specialty crop marketers and other agricultural exporters, has been targeted in previous attempts to cut the budget.
Quarles said the bill contains fairly significant cuts in discretionary research dollars provided by the USDA, continuing a trend established during recent 2011 appropriations.
The bill provides about $2.2 billion for agriculture research programs, a reduction of more than $354 million from last year’s level.
“Everybody respects the budget situation but the difficult part of this is that with the research programs you are not talking about smoke and mirrors,” Quarles said. “Those are real dollars going to real programs that will be heavily impacted by the loss of federal partnership.”
In another program important to the industry, the Women Infant and Children program budget was cut from $6.7 billion in fiscal year 2011 to $5.9 billion in the Republican draft budget.
Lorelei Disogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh, said the proposed cuts — amounting to $832 million less compared to fiscal year 2011 funding — would be a real hit to the program.
“It basically moves WIC back to 2008 funding levels and it will cut between 350,000 and 450,000 participants from WIC,” she said.
DiSogra said the Senate may not deal with hard budget numbers for programs until perhaps late summer.
The Senate budget isn’t expected to include the kind of sharp cuts that the House has put forward, she said.
The House’s 2012 draft budget for FDA discretionary funding was $2.17 billion, down $284 million from fiscal year 2011 and $571 million below President Obama’s request.
The Alliance for a Stronger FDA expressed disappointment for the proposed funding cuts to the agency in a May 24 news release. The group said the FDA’s funding is 11.5% below fiscal year 2011 funding levels established by the House last month. The alliance said the funding cuts would translate to a 500 to 1,000 fewer employees at a time when FDA’s workload is increasing.
Quarles noted the need to raise the U.S. debt limit ceiling by early August will become a point of contention and leverage as lawmakers seek to impose budget cuts.