Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Friday, November 18, 2005

Summary of House Ag Budget Cuts

- from the desk of Ferd Hoefner, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition,

House 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.

for more information post a question or comment here
or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This was on the NPR website. I personally think that anyone who thinks these budget cuts are a good thing should read this.

    Most Americans get plenty to eat, according to a survey of 50,000 people conducted last year for the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The ERS says the survey indicates that 87 percent of Americans -- more than 250 million people -- are considered "food secure." They don't have to worry about where their next meal will come from.

    That leaves 38 million people classified as "food insecure" by the government. They can't be sure they'll have enough money for food. About a third of that group at times goes without eating.

    The nation's biggest cities have the biggest proportion of people reporting food insecurity, with 17 percent saying they fit that description. But people from the country's smallest communities are not far behind. Fifteen percent of the rural people surveyed are uncertain about getting enough food. Many of them live in households where at least one adult works. A 2001 survey by America's Second Harvest of 32,000 people receiving emergency food from food banks, food pantries and shelters found that 40 percent had at least one adult working.

    The Second Harvest survey shows that many people have difficult choices to make if they and their families want to eat. Some 45 percent said they had to choose between eating and paying utility bills, at times. More than a third had to choose between food and rent or mortgage payments. Thirty percent faced a trade-off between food and medicine or medical care.

    In Smyth County, Va., the Hankins family lives these statistics every day. Their rural home is near the town of Chilhowie, a place of plenty once. Chilhowie is a Cherokee word, meaning "valley of many deer." Just up the road is Hungry Mother State Park, a place named for a local legend about a mother's sacrifice for a hungry child.

    Wreatha Hankins is a 37-year-old mom with three children and a working husband. She has resorted to extraordinary measures to make sure her family eats, including skipping meals herself, skipping medicine for epilepsy and chronic back pain, doing her own dental work, selling family heirlooms and scouring Smyth County for the cheapest food available. She searches for food bargains at dollar stores, flea markets, roadside stands and the nearly expired meat section at supermarkets.

    "We're the working poor," Wreatha says. In fact, Robbie Hankins works full-time at a cement plant. Wreatha works part-time as a substitute teacher. Last year, the couple made $22,000. That puts them just below the federal poverty threshold for a family of five. But it's too much for food stamps. The family does get a monthly, 125-pound box of groceries from a local food pantry. And the children get free lunches at school. Eating otherwise is sometimes a challenge. "It bothers me knowing that I don't know whether we're going to have food from one week to the next," says Robbie.

    The "food insecure" in rural places face special challenges. High gas prices make the hunt for cheap or free food expensive. Some rural people, especially the disabled and elderly, don't have cars, or cars that run reliably. And grocery stores and food pantries are fewer and farther between.

    The Hankins are typical of the families seeking help at the Bread of Life Community Food Pantry in nearby Saltville, Va. "Actually, nine-tenths of the people we have do work," says Jennifer Cross, who runs the food pantry with her father. "A lot of them have jobs with no insurance. By the time they go to the doctor and buy medicine, there's no money left for food."

    The Hankins family hasn't always lived this way. Times were better a decade ago, when the Hankins lived in Maryland and made as much as $70,000 a year. A dispute with an employer cost Robbie his job as a plant supervisor. He had family in Smyth County, Va., where manufacturing jobs were plentiful then. That was just before the county lost more than 2,500 textile and furniture plant jobs to what a local official calls "overseas competition."

    Wreatha told a preacher once that she considered selling her soul for food. "But I haven't sold my soul," she says, "because there's a lesson here. Somewhere, there's a lesson."


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