Congress is back in full swing this week after its August recess, but initiatives originally slated for the first week back have been postponed indefinitely with attention shifted to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and secondly, Supreme Court nominations.
Both the House and the Senate are focused on resolutions regarding recovery efforts for the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. President Bush submitted a $51.8 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations request to Congress on Wednesday in support of ongoing Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts.
Congress passed the supplemental late Thursday afternoon. The emergency funds would support the immediate needs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other Federal government agencies in their relief and recovery missions.
Budget reconciliation package postponed
The House and Senate postponed budget reconciliation until at least the end of September. Originally, the House and Senate Agriculture committees would have been required to make over $3 billion in cuts to agriculture spending by the middle of September.
The legislation must meet $3 billion in savings from the mandatory U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs over fiscal years 2006 through 2010. Spending cuts are likely to be considered for commodity support programs, food stamps, crop insurance and conservation, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Security Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Members of both authorizing committees will be under considerable pressure to avoid cuts to food stamp and conservation spending exceeding levels in the presidentâ€™s budget proposal.
Sept. 16 was the deadline for the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to submit their legislation to the House and Senate Budget Committees on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 Budget Resolution which was approved earlier this year. The Budget Resolution passed by narrow margins in both the House and Senate.
A two-week delay is expected on the ag committees proposed cuts. According to Sam Willett, National Corn Growers Association senior director of public policy, final approval of a budget reconciliation bill could extend into November due to the contentious issues of Medicaid spending cuts and the Senateâ€™s provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.
The National Farmers Union recent natural disasters and skyrocketing energy prices have only underscored the need to support vital agriculture programs. "Considering the rapidly deteriorating farm economy, the horrible impact of hurricane Katrina and rising energy prices, it would be a mistake to make cuts to farm programs, Medicaid and nutrition programs," NFU President Dave Frederickson says. "Now we must work to ensure that these cuts are not only postponed, but that they are never implemented."
More than 200 National Farmers Union members will walk the halls of Congress next week. They will commend members of Congress for their decision to postpone the cuts, and will also emphasize the need to protect programs vital to American producers.