Busy Week Ahead for USDA Funding in 2015

By: sustainableag , 7:47 PM GMT on May 16, 2014

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Next week is a big week for agriculture appropriations.  On Tuesday, May 20, both the House and the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees will debate and almost certainly pass their respective agriculture funding bills for fiscal year (FY) 2015.  The full Senate Appropriations Committee will then take up the agriculture appropriations bill on Thursday, May 22.  The full House Appropriations Committee is tentatively scheduled to take up that chamber’s agriculture appropriations bill one week later on May 29.

Ahead of markup on Tuesday, both Subcommittees are putting the final touches on their initial bills.  The Subcommittees will debate each bill and potentially offer amendments, though amendments are almost always held back until the full Appropriations Committee action.

NSAC Priorities

The agriculture appropriations bill funds many of the programs that USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administer.  This includes NSAC’s top discretionary funding priorities for FY 2015 – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (BFRIDA) program, Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

In addition to these discretionary funding priorities, NSAC will be fighting attempts to cut funding for mandatory farm bill conservation programs, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, as well as attempts to undermine USDA’s implementation of protections for livestock farmers against abuses and deceptive practices by meatpackers.  Despite the fact that these two NSAC priorities are not the purview of the Appropriations Committees, they have been repeatedly targeted in previous appropriations bills.

On Thursday, May 15, we delivered a letter to the two Subcommittees, urging them to fund BFRIDA, FSOP, RMAP, and SARE, and to leave mandatory conservation funding and protections for livestock farmers intact.

For a full description of our appropriations priorities, see our testimony from earlier in the year.

Spending Caps

For FY 2015, the House Subcommittee can spend no more than $20.9 billion in discretionary dollars.  This spending cap mirrors that of last year’s final appropriations package.  On the Senate side, discretionary spending caps for the various Subcommittees have tentatively been set, however they have not been released to the public.

The Senate has been delayed in setting its spending caps because of an unforeseen shortfall in revenues from Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages.  A recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that these revenues will be $4.3 billion less than expected for FY 2015.  As such, the Appropriations Committees must spend $4.3 billion less than could otherwise spend under the terms of last year’s budget agreement.

While the shortfall in revenue is specific to the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) spending bill, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair of the Appropriations Committee, has said that she intends to spread the resultant cuts across multiple Subcommittee bills.  Faced with the same dilemma, the House Committee majority leadership chose to concentrate the cuts in just a few subcommittees.

Senator Mikulski has tentatively set spending levels that incorporate the reduction; however, those levels (including the agriculture spending cap) have not been publicly revealed and may still change as Chairwoman Mikulski negotiates with the Committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).  At this point, we do not know whether or to what extent the agriculture spending bill will be hit.

Next Steps

A self-instituted rule in the House directs the House to post any pending legislation three legislative days in advance of debate.  That means that, if the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is indeed going to mark up its spending bill on Tuesday, it must post the bill today.  If the House chooses to follow its own rule, NSAC will quickly analyze the bill and provide a detailed summary on our blog ahead of markup next week.

The Senate, on the other hand, has no similar rule.  It is likely that we will not see the Senate’s agriculture spending bill until after the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has passed the bill.

Rep. Hal Rogers, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has said that he hopes to pass each of the 12 appropriations bills (one per Subcommittee) individually, while his counterpart, Chairwoman Mikulski has said that the Senate will pass several individual bills before wrapping the remaining bills into one or more packages, known colloquially on Capitol Hill as “minibuses.”  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has reserve four weeks of calendar time in June and July for Senate consideration of appropriations bills.

If both the House and Senate pass individual agriculture appropriations bills in June or July, Congress would still have time to conference and pass a single FY 2015 agriculture appropriations bill before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

In the recent past, the individual bills have been passed out of the full Appropriations Committees but have not gone to the floor of the House and Senate as individual bills.  Instead, leaders in the House and Senate have negotiated the final language behind the scenes, eventually wrapping the agriculture spending bill into a minibus or an omnibus, the latter of which incorporates all 12 bills.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming days.

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We are an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture.

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