Tuesday the U.S. Senate passed the agricultural appropriations bill by a 69-30 vote. The bill represents a 15% reduction in ag funding levels since fiscal year 2010. Earlier this year the House passed its ag appropriations bill which cut funding 26%.
The bill was rolled into two other appropriations bills funding the commerce and transportation departments. Funding for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, is set to expire Nov. 18 under a stopgap bill passed in September.
Somewhat surprising is that conference work quickly got underway on Thursday with 18 senators and 20 representatives beginning to hammer out the differences of the minibus bill.
Under a timeline outlined at the conference meeting by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.), the conference would conclude its work the week of Nov. 14 — allowing for the House’s recess this week — and both chambers would hold final votes on the measure by Nov. 17, one day before the C.R. expires. Reports indicate another continuing resolution to keep the rest of the government running into December would be attached to this minibus bill.
It has been two years since the ag department’s appropriations haven’t been rolled into a much larger omnibus bill. Often times bills have been adopted at the last minute with very little scrutiny.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said, “The passage of the Senate ag appropriations bill is a step in the right direction towards reducing our nation’s deficit while avoiding some of the more damaging cuts. Overall, the ag appropriations bill is a reasonable bill, and we hope that the final ag appropriations bill, after conferring with the House, closely resembles the Senate version.”
The Senate did not include a policy rider to defund the completion and implementation of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule.
The National Wildlife Federation criticized the amount of conservation funds slashed in the bill. Approximately $700 million dollars was cut from conservation programs that help farmers, ranchers and foresters, as well as soil, water and wildlife.
“These steep cuts in the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill target crucial and effective programs that are already oversubscribed with a long waiting list of farmers wanting to implement conservation practices,” a statement from the NWF said.
The legislation slices funding in half for the Grasslands Reserve Program, a popular and underfunded program that helps farmers and ranchers protect and restore some of America’s last remaining native grasslands. This bill also cuts funding by 41% for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, which helps landowners create wildlife habitat on working landscapes. The legislation completely zeroes out the Voluntary Public Access Program, which encourages farmers to make their land accessible to the public for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-based recreational opportunities.