By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division
The American Veterinary Medical Association and a coalition of nearly 400 organizations representing a broad range of interests impacted by the Farm Bill – from veterinarians to farmers and ranchers, to agribusiness and food banks – urged U.S. Senate and House leaders to reject calls for additional cuts to the 2014 Farm Bill.
On Feb. 23, the coalition sent a letter to both the House and Senate Budget Committee chairs and ranking members voicing their united opposition to reopening any part of the Farm Bill during the 2016 budget process, and urged both chambers of Congress to refrain from including “reconciliation instructions” to the respective committees with oversight duties for the bill. Put simpler, each chamber of Congress will consider its own budget resolution, which although they do not have the same force of law, they can set the overall spending levels for the coming fiscal year. In addition, the budget chairs may include reconciliation instructions, which force the committees to cut spending, increase taxes or cut taxes. Senate rules prohibit using reconciliation to consider legislation that would increase the deficit, while House rules prohibit using it to increase mandatory spending.
The AVMA is monitoring this process very closely because the Farm Bill authorizes funding for several vitally important programs to veterinary medicine, including: the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, the new competitive Veterinary Services Grant Program, the Animal Health and Disease Research/1433 Formula Funds, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the Agricultural Research Service, the Food Safety Inspection Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Budget cuts to any of these programs will hinder veterinarians and scientists from fulfilling each program’s mission relating to animal health and welfare, food safety and research.
During the Farm Bill reauthorization last Congress, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairs of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees respectively, made the difficult choice of having to cut several areas across the Farm Bill in order to reduce the budget deficit by $23 billion over the next decade. Given that these cuts had already been made, the coalition argued that further cuts would be detrimental to the agricultural community.
“The 2014 Farm Bill required over three years of debate in both chambers of Congress and ultimately ended with the consolidation of over 100 programs and cuts to mandatory spending across many titles, including the elimination of the direct payment program,” the coalition stated in the letter. “These cuts came in addition to those already in effect due to sequestration.”
Sequestration is a process that involves Congress setting a hard cap on the amount of government spending. If Congress enacts spending bills that exceed these caps, then an across-the-board spending cut is automatically imposed on all federal agencies.
While the details of the Senate’s budget resolution are currently unknown, it is expected that the Senate Agriculture Committee will be exempted from additional cuts. However, the House Budget Committee rejected the coalition’s request and on March 17 released a budget resolution which would cut spending $5.5 trillion governmentwide and instructs the House Agriculture Committee to cut an additional $1 billion from programs under its jurisdiction. Both proposals are expected to erase the federal deficit within the next 10 years without a tax increase and to stick to the discretionary spending caps for fiscal 2016 of $523 billion for defense and $493.5 billion for non-defense, which are called for under sequestration.
The House Budget Committee passed its bill out of committee on March 18 by a vote of 22-13. The full House will consider the measure next week.
On March 19, the Senate Budget Committee, on a party-line 12-10 vote, adopted its fiscal 2016 budget resolution after approving an amendment to add $89 billion for defense through the special war funding account. Chairman Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) said the resolution would go to the Senate floor for votes beginning on Monday.
Because Congress has modified the discretionary spending caps three years in a row, it is anticipated that another budget deal similar to the one ironed out by former Budget Committee chairmen, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will be worked out by the current chairmen, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).
The AVMA Governmental Relations Division will be monitoring this process very closely and will keep you updated as discussions on Capitol Hill continue.