- from the desk of Ferd Hoefner, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.orgHouse Approves Budget Cuts
Unlike last week, the ‘revenge of the GOP moderates’ fizzled out this week. The House approved the spending cuts portion of the budget reconciliation process by the now all-too-familiar, wee-hours-of-the-morning, strictly-partisan, slim-margin vote. This time it was 217-215 at 1:45 AM Friday morning. It was a roller coaster day on Thursday, with the House voting down, 209-224, the 2006 appropriations bill for labor, education, and health and human services, with 22 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. The bill proposed to reduce spending on social programs by $1.4 billion compared to last year, or close to $5 billion accounting for inflation and the current level of services. This was the first appropriations bill defeated on the House floor since 1995, a stunning defeat for the House leadership. It seemed to portend trouble ahead on the 5-year spending cut bill. But, alas, by nightfall, they regained their stride, put the squeeze on, and rounded up the requisite number of moderates who would walk the plank.
With 14 GOP moderates still voting no, the deciding vote was cast by Energy Committee Chairman Barton (R-TX). Barton was forced to switch his vote from no (in protest of oil drilling in Alaska being dropped from the bill the week before) to yes after it became clear that even with the vote remaining open for an extra 15 minutes that it would not pass without his switch. Barton was escorted by Rep DeLay (R-TX) to the table in the front of the chamber where he then recorded his switch with a scowl while Democrats booed and Republicans cheered. Chief among the last minute vote-gaining deals was one negotiated by Rep. Jim Walsh (R-NY) to take a little bit of the sting out of the cuts to food stamps and Medicaid.
The last minute change, coupled with changes already agreed to early Thursday morning, reduced the Medicaid cut by $490 million to $11.4 billion and the food stamp cut by $183 million to $701 million. Rep. Green (R-WI) traded his vote after securing a letter from Speaker Hastert (R-IL) saying the House leadership might look favorably on securing in conference a two-year extension of the MILC dairy payments, included in the Senate but not the House bill. That move, assuming it happens, will almost certainly require an increase in the cuts to conservation, research and rural development programs.
Rep. Boehlert (R-NY), who last week indicated he would not change his mind, nonetheless voted yes, pointing to the dairy letter and to another promise from Hastert that the House in conference would be willing to consider more funding for low income heating assistance than is included in the House bill. And so it went. Our favorite lame quote of the day came from Rep. LaTourette (R-OH) who explained his yes vote (also like Barton’s a switch) to Congress Daily as follows: “As lousy as I thought this product was, we’re in the majority…leadership is telling me it’ll get better, so we’ll see.”
Three GOP Members who we had targeted to receive calls and information about the nature and extent of the cuts to nutrition, conservation, rural development and renewable energy programs did in fact vote no: Reps. Leach (R-IA), Ramstad (R-MN), and Johnson (R-IL).
Those we targeted who voted in favor of the bill included Reps. Emerson (R-MO), Osborne (R-NE), Kennedy (R-MN), Green (R-WI), Ehlers (R-MI), Schwartz (R-MI), Walsh (R-NY), and Boehlert (R-NY). From here, the bill next goes to a conference committee between the House and the Senate. The two bills are quite different in size and in detail. Proposals are floating to settle on a mid-point of about $43 billion in cuts in terms of the final size of the package, but even once that compromise is agreed to the fierce battle will be over the details.
Food and Ag Cuts: A quick review of the conference situation for the agriculture portion:
* the House has major food stamp cuts, and the Senate has none;
* the House has very minor commodity program cuts, and the Senate's are more substantial;
* the House has no MILC and the Senate has a 2-year extension of MILC;
* the House cuts the Conservation Security Program by $504 million and the Senate by $821 million;
* the House cuts the Agricultural Management Assistance program (including organic payments) and the Senate does not;
* the Senate cuts the Conservation Reserve Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the House does not;
* the House cuts Value-Added grants and Renewable Energy grants and the Senate does not;
* the House cuts the Initiative for Future Ag and Food Systems by $620 million while the Senate cuts it by $336 million.
Also up for grabs is whether to extend the authorities for the programs being cut, including the commodity programs, through 2011, as included in the Senate but not the House bill. The Administration is strongly opposed to the 2011 extension language, as is at least one likely Senate conferee -- Sen. Lugar (R-IN), but the position of the likely House conferees is not yet clear. We are still waiting to hear who will be appointed conferees for the agriculture section of the bill, but are expecting the Senate conferees to include on the Republican side Chambliss (GA), Lugar (IN), Cochran (MS), and possibly McConnell (KY), and on the Democratic side Harkin (IA), Leahy (VT), and possibly Conrad (ND).
House conferees are likely to include at least some of the Ag subcommittee chairs and ranking members. We will be contacting the conferees shortly after they are named with our positions and recommendations. We are cautiously optimistic on the prospects for getting the conferees to eliminate cuts to value-added and renewable energy, but less so on the prospects for curtailing very major cuts to CSP and IFAFS. Provided that the House conferees agree to ditch most or all of their proposed food stamp cuts, which they will need to do to have any chance of agreement with the Senate, it at this point appears quite unlikely the conference agreement would fall apart for any other reason connected to the agriculture portion of the bill.
However, the prospects for the conference to fall apart or get voted down based on cuts to Medicaid or whether or not to include oil drilling in ANWR still hold some promise for blowing up the bill. It is increasingly a long shot, but still a real possibility. The Schedule: The House and Senate will go into recess tomorrow, with the House due to come back the week of December 5 but the Senate to stay away until the week of December 12, which will be the week when final action occurs on the spending cut bill, the tax cut bill (see below), and the Defense appropriations and Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bills.
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