Thursday the Senate Agriculture Committee was slated to begin working on cutting $3 billion from USDA's budget as part of a reconciliation package. Thursday morning, the Senate Agriculture Committee Web page reported the meeting on budget reconciliation was postponed until further notice.
Senate Republicans released recommended changes in the budget Wednesday afternoon. Democrats and conservation groups criticized the suggested cuts to the budget. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss proposed the plan, which includes a $574 million reduction in food stamps and other nutritional programs from FY06-FY10, as well as 2.5% across-the-board cuts in payments to farmers and reductions in both the Conservation Reserve and Conservation Security programs.
A statement from Chambliss explains the delay in marking up the budget reconciliation was the result of the cost of extending the Milk Income Loss Contract program, which Chambliss recommended be extended another year through Sept. 30, 2007, at a cost of $998 million.
"Some committee senators said they were concerned at the cost of extending the MILC program at the expense of other commodity programs. There is strong support for this countercyclical dairy program among both parties within this committee, but it does not appear there is the support that is necessary," Chambliss says. "This committee is still required to choose where $3 billion in 5-year deficit reduction cuts will come from. As a committee, we must participate with other committees that are cutting the budget, or we lose the right to choose our cuts when the Congress votes on budget reconciliation."
Conservation programs will be targeted for one-third of proposed FY06 budget reconciliation cuts. Total conservation programs took a hit of over $1 billion over five years. In addition, Chambliss announced that the Conservation Security Program, a new, mandatory conservation program enacted in 2002, would take 75% of the total conservation reduction. The plan results in a 30% reduction in CSP funding.
Since the 2002 Farm Bill, conservation programs have suffered $3.8 billion in cuts. Last year alone, federal conservation programs experienced a $4.3 billion backlog due to insufficient funds, preventing three out of every four applicants from receiving needed assistance, states a release from the American Farmland Trust.
"In a time of record federal deficit, conservation programs prove to be a good value and a good investment for taxpayers," says AFT President Ralph Grossi. "Furthermore, conservation programs help the United States comply with its obligations under the WTO because the programs maximize long-term environmental benefits rather than increase production."
Chambliss' Democrat counterpart on the Ag Committee expressed disappointment with the suggested budget cuts. "While farmers are facing record energy prices, depressed commodity prices and the harvest, Washington is cutting assistance to rural communities and agriculture," Harkin says. "Cutting income support for farmers at the time when they need it most is a double dose of bad news for rural America."
The proposal cuts farm income support would reduce commodity payments to every farmer in the country by 2.5%. Harkin says an Iowa farm of 1,000 acres would experience a reduction of $1,158 in government payments. That same farm, if energy prices were to remain high, would lose over $6,100 dollars in costs on fuel, electricity and nitrogen fertilizer and other expenses. "Thus, over the next year, the 1,000 acre farm would lose more than $7,200 in income," a statement from Harkin points out.