COTTON PAYMENT TO BRAZIL IS HIT TOO, VILSACK SAYS
Recent suggestions by USDA of a two-week total shutdown of the meat industry "affected prices, caused concern among financial markets and alarmed buyers and sellers in the retail and food service community," Lucas said.
Some Republicans on the committee suggested USDA could avoid furloughs by shifting money among other accounts or by cost-cutting in other areas within the agency.
But Vilsack said the furloughs were unavoidable when spending must be cut by 10 to 12 percent for the rest of the year - to achieve a 5-percent cut for the fiscal year - and inspectors account for 87 percent of the meat agency's budget.
"No matter how you slice it," said Vilsack, furloughs are certain. "We are going to try to maintain movement through the (meat industry) process," he said.
Lucas and Rep Steve King of Iowa said the administration was providing little help to House Republicans on how to restructure the automatic cuts into a less painful package. The House was expected to vote later in the week on a Republican alternative. It would not alter the sequester's impact on meat inspection and most other USDA programs, though.
USDA's funding was cut by $1.9 billion by the sequester. USDA says the cuts mean less money for soil conservation and farm loans, the shutdown of camp grounds and visitor centers in some national forests and a smaller caseload for the so-called WIC program that provides additional food for poor pregnant women, new mothers and their children.
The item-by-item cuts would also reduce slightly the funds available for a $147 million payment due this year to Brazil as a step toward resolving a World Trade Organization ruling against U.S. cotton subsidies, Vilsack said.