New members of Congress have been sworn in and the 112th Congress has begun. Senior Vice President of Washington Operations for the National Cotton Council, John McGuire, says the make-up of the new Congress will have an impact on U.S. farming operations:
"President Obama will submit his proposal in early February to start the annual budget process. Congress will then begin work on a budget resolution which is due by April, but it is not unusal for that deadline to be missed. If the budget resolution calls for significant spending reductions, then budget reconciliation legislation will require committees to make changes to programs under their jurisdiction to achieve specified savings. It is this process that could result in modifications being made to existing farm programs. The budget committees will be able to draw on a number of recommendations made by the Presidentially appointed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission was tasked to develop comprehensive recommendations to reduce the deficit. In its final report, the commission proposed reducing agricultural spending by ten billion dollars, by reducing direct payments and by cutting funds for conservation and export promotion programs. The report also suggests reducing spending by an additional five billion dollars with those funds to be used to maintain the permanent disaster program known as SURE. Some or all of the commission's recommendations are likely to be included in the Congressional budget resolutions."
McGuire notes there are 16 new members of the Senate - 13 Republicans and three Democrats:
"Spending on agriculture is less than one-percent of total federal spending. Spending on commodity programs is projected to be minimal for the next few years. And total spending under the 2008 Farm Bill is well below initial estimates. As a result of changes made to the crop insurance program last year, agriculture has already contributed nearly four billion dollars toward deficit reduction. The question is, can we convice the new Congress to give us credit for having already made a significant contribution to deficit reduction?
House Republicans have stated that they want to cut descretionary spending back to 2008 levels by reducing current spending by twenty-one percent, or one hundred billion dollars. Defense, homeland security and veterans programs will be exempt from these reductions. Cutting spending this deeply in mid-year would have a significant impact on numerous programs, especially agriculture programs funded through the annual appropriations process. The House is also expected to adopt new rules that require members to site constitutional authority for any legislation they introduce, implement Pay-Go rules that require spending offsets for any legislation projected to increase spending, eliminate all ear-marks from annual appropriations bills, and conduct a separate vote on any increase in the national debt limit. That very difficult vote may come within the next few months."
The 56th annual Beltwide Cotton Conference runs through today in Atlanta.