The Senate is rushing to finish 11 of the 13 spending bills before Congress adjourns at the end of October. On Wednesday the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved an agricultural spending bill for FY05.
Mark Palmer, American Soybean Association lobbyist, says program funding was slashed across the board. Overall the budget cut spending by $1.3 billion compared to last year.
The ag appropriations bill includes $16.8 billion in discretionary spending, or about $67 million less than the 2004 fiscal year level. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says that President Bush's budget plan has led to serious cuts in funding previously dedicated in the farm bill as well as in other crucial farm, conservation and rural programs
Among the programs cut are those designed to boost rural economic growth and create new jobs. The 2002 farm bill provides $40 million in fiscal 2005 for Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants. The president's budget proposed cutting that funding to $16 million and the subcommittee bill provides $15 million. The farm bill also created and funded a venture capital initiative for rural areas, but the Bush administration's budget will limit the funding sharply and impose regulatory fees.
The subcommittee bill also reflects the president's request to reduce USDA's program to support increased ethanol and biodiesel production from the farm bill's $150 million to $100 million for fiscal 2005. For renewable energy and energy efficiency grants, the farm bill provided $23 million, while the subcommittee provides $20 million, compared to $11 million in the president's budget.
In conservation funding, over half a billion dollars would be cut from farm bill levels - again largely consistent with President Bush's budget - with reductions in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, Conservation Security Program and Watershed Dam Rehabilitation Program and others.
The approved bill has an amendment authored by Sen. Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D., that will ease the way for increase exports to Cuba. Dorganâ€™s amendment would allow Americans who want to sell farm products to Cuba to travel there without having to apply to the Treasury Departmentâ€™s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) for permission. OFAC is the office that has worked to block sales trips to Cuba by delaying or refusing to issue travel licenses.
According to Congress Daily, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a similar measure last year, but it was stripped from the bill in conference.
Chances are the ag appropriations bill will be included with other spending bill. Although House and Senate leaders say they want to have the bills completed before the October adjournment, the timeline seems unprobable. The most likely scenario would bring Congressional members back after the first of the year to approve all spending bills in an omnibus package.