D.C. Watch: Is a unified budget possible?

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The House, Senate and administration have all released their budgets for fiscal 2014. The next logical step is for the House and Senate to hold a conference committee with the goal of working out differences so that both houses of Congress are working with the same frameworks.

But so far, the leaders in Congress have not indicated that they will even name members to take part in any conference committee. And even if a conference committee is convened, a unified budget would be nearly impossible to construct.

Why?

Because funding for government operations in the Republican majority House budget is nearly $100 billion less than the Democratic-majority Senate version, which emphasizes new tax revenues (opposed by many in the GOP) to help cover the Senate’s additional spending.

And with no compromise budget, it will be nearly impossible for Congress to agree on appropriations bills. That means the government will probably continue to operate on “continuing resolutions” (i.e. without a budget) into election-year 2014.

Meanwhile, the President’s budget proposal claims to cut $38 billion in ag spending over the next 10 years by 

  1. eliminating direct payments,
  2. cutting the government subsidy for crop insurance premiums and
  3. lowering the cap on the Conservation Reserve Program to 25 million acres from the current cap at 32 million. (Current enrollment is 29 million.)

However, the administration’s proposal did not cut any funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and was declared “dead on arrival” by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which is the normal response from the opposition party no matter who’s in the White House.

House and Senate Agriculture Committee members remain upbeat about passing a 5-year farm bill this year. Members of the Committee recognize the need for a farm bill but getting one passed through both houses of Congress will still be a challenge.

As detailed in the previous items, major disagreements over spending on food stamps and the structure of the dairy program remain and the House and Senate budget proposals for agriculture are far apart.

Still, some action on the farm bill is expected to start in May.

The long-discussed immigration reform bill was introduced in Congress last week.

The bill would, at least in theory, make it easier for farmers to find workers that are in the country legally and allow these “guest” workers to stay in the U.S. year-around. A total of 337,000 farm-worker visas could be issued over a three year period.

After five years, the bill proposes that USDA set an “appropriate cap” for the program, but doesn’t specify how that cap would be determined.



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