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Published March 26, 2012, 02:54 PM

Budget deliberations

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said March 20 he will review how farm groups that reacted negatively to President Barack Obama’s proposed budget cuts in farm programs react to the $30 billion cut over 10 years that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., proposed, while House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he would be careful about “reading too much” into either Obama or Ryan’s budgets.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said March 20 he will review how farm groups that reacted negatively to President Barack Obama’s proposed budget cuts in farm programs react to the $30 billion cut over 10 years that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., proposed, while House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he would be careful about “reading too much” into either Obama or Ryan’s budgets.

Told by a reporter that Ryan’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal called for a $30 billion cut in farm programs over the next 10 years, only $2 billion less than Obama suggested in his budget, Vilsack said he had not had a chance to review the Ryan budget but that he would be interested “to see how farm groups that were critical of the president’s budget react to it. I hope there is consistency.”

He was also told that Ryan had proposed turning the supplemental nutrition assistance program known as SNAP or food stamps into a block grant to the states. Vilsack said USDA has reported that fraud and error rates on food stamps have been reduced and added that he thinks SNAP is providing food to needy people.

“From my perspective, the program is looking well,” Vilsack said.

Lucas said in a statement that Ryan’s budget “demonstrates that House Republicans are willing to lead and make the difficult decisions necessary to tackle our debt and deficit crisis.”

“I don’t support every detail and proposed cut, but writing and passing a budget is the most basic function of governing and requires leadership and political courage from the president and Congress,” Lucas added.

“I would caution people about reading too much into the numbers or policy proposals in either the President’s budget or the Ryan budget,” Lucas said. “They are only suggestions. During our process, both policy and deficit reduction targets will be developed in conjunction with ranking member [Collin] Peterson (D-Minn.) and members of the committee as we write a fiscally responsible farm bill that ensures Americans continue to have a safe, affordable and stable food supply.”

No detailed cuts

In the budget document released March 20, Ryan called for $30 billion in savings in farm programs over 10 years through reductions in the direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low and through cuts in the crop insurance program.

Ryan did not state how much he would reduce the direct payments program, which costs $4.9 billion per year, so it is impossible to determine how much he would cut from crop insurance. The farm bill draft that the agriculture committee leaders sent to the failed Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction eliminated the direct payment program, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is using that draft as the basis for writing the next farm bill.

Ryan also called for conversion of the SNAP program into a block grant in 2016 “after employment has recovered,” and said that benefits should be made “contingent on work or job training.”

The fiscal year 2012 budget that passed the House anticipated $127 billion in budget savings over 10 years by capping a block grant to the states, but the fiscal year 2013 budget does not mention specific budget savings from SNAP.

Donna Cooper, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said it was difficult to react to the Ryan budget without knowing what savings are expected, but she added that she does not favor turning SNAP over to the states because the states have not proved to be good managers of other social programs.

The budget also calls for a “reprioritization” of the Budget Control Act to sequester funds, including large cuts to defense spending.

Ryan’s budget proposal gives reconciliation instructions to the House Agriculture Committee and five others — Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means — in aggregate to produce at least $18 billion of deficit reduction for fiscal year 2013, $116 billion over the first five years and $261 billion over 10 years.

A chart proposed $8.2 billion in savings from agriculture in fiscal year 2013, $19.7 billion over five years and $33.2 billion over 10 years. It does not say what programs the agriculture committee should cut.

The Budget Control Act exempts SNAP and multiyear contractual programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program along with other social programs, but some Republicans have said that SNAP should be cut either as part of reconciliation or in the next farm bill.

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