Cuts to agriculture programs may be next in the House

Like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill approved last week, the agriculture appropriations bill would make moderate cuts to spending from FY 2011 levels. The bill cuts $2.7 billion in so-called discretionary spending compared to current funding levels, bringing this line item to $17.25 billion. That's $5 billion below the Obama administration's budget request.

Still, the bill also provides for $116.9 billion in "mandatory" spending on these programs.

House Republicans justified cuts to discretionary programs by pointing to the need for continued fiscal discipline in light of the $1.5 trillion budget deficit.

"Clearly, America is on an unsustainable spending path," the report language states. "With this bill, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is doing its part to reverse this destructive spending pattern and restore the fiscal health of our nation."

A possible flash point in the House debate is a proposed $686 million cut to women and infant nutrition programs. The report language says estimates for how much money is needed for this line item have declined, and also noted that the Department of Agriculture has $125 million in "carryover" funds that can still be used, although Democrats are still likely to reject this cut.

Another possible debate item is the proposal to cut $140 million from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). This would require ARS facilities to be closed in 10 states: Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

The bill also cuts the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service by $73 million, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service by $34 million.

The DHS appropriations bill approved by the House last week was the first appropriations bill taken up in the House, and cut $1.1 billion in spending compared to FY 2011 levels.

The second appropriations bill deals with military construction and Veterans Affairs. This bill increased spending above FY 2011 levels, and the House started work on it last week.

The Appropriations Committee has also started work on the FY 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, and last week held a subcommittee hearing on that bill.