On April 8, just prior to an imposed shutdown Democrats and Republicans agreed to a budget deal to keep the government operating in fiscal year 2011. However, the fiscal issues and ideological grievances cited during a recent string of continuing resolutions have not gone away. In fact, the fight over the 2012 budget – with taxes, Social Security, healthcare policy, defense spending, class warfare and highly divisive cultural issues all sure to show up -- promises to make the political parties’ latest clash look like a minor schoolyard scuffle.

With the country facing massive deficit spending, the budget debate received an extra dose of adrenalin with the early-April release of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget. Ryan, a Republican and Chairman of the House Budget Committee, was quickly criticized by agriculture groups for his proposed cuts to farm programs.

“The resolution proposes $175 billion in cuts over 10 years — a reduction of more than 20 percent to the budget baseline for agriculture and nutrition programs,” said the USA Rice Federation in a statement. “These proposed cuts would be in addition to the $15 billion in cuts agriculture has already sustained over the past six years, including $6 billion in 2010 as a result of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) for crop insurance negotiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Further “Ryan’s proposal would cut $30 billion from commodity, crop insurance and trade promotion programs; $18 billion from conservation programs; and $100 billion from the food and nutrition programs.”

Agriculture “is being asked to shoulder a hugely disproportionate share of deficit reduction relative to our impact on the federal budget,” said Jackie Loewer, Louisiana rice producer and USA Rice Federation chairman. “We have already sustained significant budget cuts, and contributed $4 billion to deficit reduction in the SRA negotiations, yet we are being subjected to proposed cuts that would make crafting the next farm bill all but impossible.”

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president, said Ryan would be well-served to consider the sensible recommendations made by our farmer and rancher members instead of proposing short-sighted cuts in the 2012 federal budget that will do irreparable harm to American agriculture.

“If there’s any sure thing in agriculture, it is that high prices are always followed by low prices. Too many times, policymakers have declared a new era in farm commodity prices only to watch prices plummet soon after. If we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it, just as Chairman Ryan’s proposal will do.”

Critics of Ryan’s plan also include the 1.6 million members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. An AFSCME statement claims adoption of Ryan’s budget would mean Medicaid cuts of “asmuch as $1 trillion. … Americans do not want to see vital programs destroyed while corporations and the wealthy escape paying their fair share. We will do what is necessary to oppose this plan and the politicians who support it.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Delta Farm Press spoke with D.C.-based Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), about the budget and what it means for the next farm bill. Among his comments:

On the Ryan plan…

“We’ve seen interpretations of the (Ryan) plan. We haven’t seen specific numbers yet. Nor has the House Agriculture Committee, to my knowledge — at least the last time we checked with them.”

There are “some broad ideas of what the (House) Budget Committee proposes to do. But, remember, the Budget Committee sets a number and it’s the Agriculture Committee that has to come up with the cuts. And again, the Agriculture Committee has not reacted” to the Ryan numbers.

On AFBF contact with Congress…

“We’ve talked to members of Congress and their staff, those on the Agriculture Committee. They’ve yet to get very specific numbers from the Budget Committee.

“There’s a general recognition that you can’t write the same farm bill we did three years ago with the resources available. Next year, when the farm bill is written, there will be even fewer resources.

“So, the question everyone has is not whether we’ll have the same money available today. We won’t and we know that. The question is what to do with the money that will be available.”

On writing previous farm bills…

“In previous farm bills, we’ve always felt there was opportunity to go out and get additional funding. For the coming farm bill, 37 or 38 programs don’t have a baseline after 2012 and aren’t projected to continue. In order to have them continue, there must be additional money coming from somewhere — either from other farm bill titles, like nutrition, commodities, conservation, crop insurance, or (get funds) outside the farm bill.

“Then, you run flat into the reality that we’ve got a deficit of about $1.5 trillion to $1.6 trillion this year. That’s just the deficit. And everyone is being cut and looking for money.

“That means you really have to prioritize. And that’s something we’ve been talking about with the (Farm Bureau) board. How do you prioritize? If there’s a dollar to spend, where do you spend it? What’s the most important thing to fund?”   

On nutrition versus farm programs…  

“The nutrition title is part of the farm bill. In the past, farm bills have passed by a collective group of interests: production agriculture to nutrition to conservation.

“It’s easier to do that in a time of increasing resources. Today, we find ourselves in a time of decreasing resources and everyone is worried about losing share out of the farm package.”

On the Columbia and Panama free trade agreements (FTAs)…

AFBF “President Bob Stallman, and several board members are returning from Columbia today. They were (in Columbia) for a week, meeting with farmers, ranchers, government officials and trade association folks in an effort to get the (FTA) moving.”

The latest movement between the U.S. and Columbia and Panama “is good news. Our preference is to get the (FTAs) done. I don’t think it matters one whit whether (as some congressmen prefer) they’re done in one package or done in sequence. We just want them done and done right away.

“Once (the FTAs) are with Congress, we’ll work like the dickens to get them passed. We think they’re good for agriculture and the country.”

For more, see Progress on Columbia, Panama trade deals.