House Budget Proposal Endangers Timely Farm Bill

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Congressional House leaders have unveiled their budget proposal for FY2013. Though it revealed few surprises, when House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced the plan on Tuesday he drew ire not only from Democrats but from some farmers weary about the effects that partisan gridlock over food stamp and Medicare programs will have on a long-anticipated Farm Bill.

Ryan’s calls for major changes to federal safety net programs in the budget proposal are essentially a repeat of the House Republican budget suggestions from last year. State agriculture leaders now fear that a full Farm Bill won’t be realized until after the election year.

On Tuesday, in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., Ryan proposed to cut $33.2 billion from agricultural programs – on par with reductions to USDA spending already put forward by President Obama. The cuts would mainly come from direct subsidy payments and crop insurance programs over the next 10 years. The big talking point for Democrats is Rep. Ryan’s efforts to slash $123 billion from nutrition programs by converting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly called the food stamp program) into state block grants.

Representatives who oppose the plan say that state-run block grant programs, in lieu of the current food stamp program structure, would limit funds available for nutrition assistance and restrict what they call necessary flexibility for the program during tough economic times. According to the most recent statistics, upwards of 46 million Americans received SNAP benefits in 2010.

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member of the Budget Committee, said in a statement:

“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.”

Peterson continued, “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.”

Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas responded to the Ryan budget, stressing its tentative nature and his Committee’s dedication to passing a timely agriculture spending package.

“I’m proud of the bipartisan tradition at the House Agriculture Committee and have no doubt it will continue over the coming months as we work tirelessly writing a new Farm Bill,” writes Lucas. “I would caution people about reading too much into the numbers or policy proposals in either the President’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 Ranking Member Peterson and Members of the Committee as we write a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that ensures Americans continue to have a safe, affordable, and stable food supply.”

See the entire proposal here.