On Tuesday, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, released a proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2013. If enacted, the plan would cut agriculture spending some $30 billion  over the next decade and those writing the next farm bill will have to adhere to those limits.
(See more on the proposal here. )
(For House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas' (R-Okla.) response, see here )
Ryan’s fellow House Republicans said his proposal was strong, necessary medicine for the country’s financial woes. Meanwhile, Democrats warned the plan threatens the ability of Congress to pass a farm bill during an election year.
In recent months, farm state legislators have proposed cuts to agriculture of around $23 billion, while the Obama administration would cut $32 billion.
“Chairman Ryan's proposed budget demonstrates that House Republicans are willing to lead and make the difficult decisions necessary to tackle our debt and deficit crisis,” said Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in a statement. While Lucas doesn’t “support every detail and proposed cut … writing and passing a budget is the most basic function of governing and requires leadership and political courage.”
Still, Lucas hasn’t bought into the Ryan plan without hesitation. “I would caution people about reading too much into the numbers or policy proposals in either (Obama’s) budget or the Ryan budget. They are only suggestions. During our process, both policy and deficit reduction targets will be developed in conjunction with (Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member, and the House Agriculture Committee) as we write a fiscally responsible farm bill that ensures Americans continue to have a safe, affordable, and stable food supply.”
In a separate statement, Peterson was much less kind to the Ryan proposal. “The process outlined by the House Republican budget all but guarantees there will be no farm bill this year.
“The Ryan budget proposes significant cuts in the farm safety net and conservation programs, and slashes spending on nutrition programs that provide food for millions of Americans. It is appalling that in an attempt to avoid defense cuts the Republican leadership has elected to leave farmers and hungry families hurting.
“We need to get our spending under control and agriculture has shown that we can do our part, but all other sectors of our economy need to do so as well. To do otherwise is irresponsible.”
Saying he had not yet read the Ryan proposal, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to comment on it during a Tuesday morning press conference.
To reach the $30 billion target, Ryan would largely target the $5-billion-a-year direct payments farmers receive — a move not likely to be contested by either party following legislator comments during a series of recent farm bill hearings. Ryan would also cut federal payments to crop insurance by around 20 percent.
Ryan’s budget would also slash around $123 billion from nutrition programs by converting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into block grants to states.
NFU weighs in
Quickly weighing in on the plan, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “Once again, we see that Congress is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of rural America. The proposed cuts to agriculture spending would severely constrain the ability of the next farm bill to provide policy that protects against yield losses and when markets collapse.”
While commodity prices are currently high, said Johnson, “good times do not last. Policymakers should look to what happened around the 1996 farm bill, when lawmakers saw relatively high farm prices as a reason to remove most of the farm safety net. When prices fell in the late 1990s, billions of dollars were spent to keep farmers on the farm when a modest investment in the 1996 farm bill would have prevented the calamity. We must learn from the past.
“Agriculture has been ready and willing to do its part in reducing the federal deficit, but Rep. Ryan’s budget proposes total cuts to farm bill spending of more than $155 billion. A cut of more than $33 billion to the safety net over the next 10 years is too much. This is $10 billion more than the agreement reached late last year in a bipartisan, bicameral manner by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
“These proposed budget cuts highlight the importance of looking for new solutions in agriculture policy to ensure that farmers and ranchers are protected even as available funding decreases. Farmers need a safety net for difficult times — when markets collapse and when disaster strikes.”
In recent months, the NFU has pushed the Market-Driven Inventory System, developed by University of Tennessee economists. Had the system been in place from 1998 to 2010, claimed Johnson, “The federal government would have saved about 60 percent in farm program spending compared to the costs of the programs that were actually implemented during that period.”
“Rural America, production agriculture and the House Agriculture Committee are willing to do our part in reducing the deficit,” said Lucas, echoing a common theme among farm state legislators. “The current farm bill expires in September and the House Agriculture Committee is continuing its farm bill process with a series of field hearings to receive input from producers on how to craft responsible policy that contributes to deficit reduction. Additional hearings in Washington, D.C. will quickly follow field hearings.”