USDA plans for double whammy on Sept. 30

Published on: Sep 30, 2013

September 30 marks the end of the government funding allotted under the Continuing Resolution last spring as well as the farm bill one-year extension passed in the wee hours of the morning January 1.

The House and Senate went back and forth over the weekend on funding levels. House Republicans are continuing to push for changes in President Obama's health care law, with its first attempt calling for a full repeal. The Senate sent back a CR version with funding levels the same as before at sequestration levels. Time is slipping away and setting up the first government shutdown in 17 years.

The Senate CR would duplicate the House version by capping total government spending at $987 billion. This is far lower than the level Senate Democrats have wanted for the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bills. The Senate-passed budget calls for eliminating the existing across-the-board spending cuts (sequester), but — with little time left to avoid a government shutdown — they have for now put off the demand to shut off the sequester.

If the $987 billion level were kept in place when Congress negotiates a long-term CR later this fall, and if the sequestration process is left in place in that long-term CR, federal spending will automatically fall by an additional $20 billion in January, with all $20 billion coming out of the Defense budget.  That $20 billion defense cut is required by the budget law governing sequestration.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning for an emergency shutdown as a result of the furloughs of nearly all of its employees. All USDA employees, other than individuals appointed by the President (with or without Senate confirmation) can be put in furlough status. USDA has only 17 individuals appointed by the President.

USDA's Lapse in Funding Plans Website identifies a plan for each of the government's agencies. For instance, certain Food Safety and Inspective Service (FSIS) employees are exempt to ensure the safety of food safety inspections.

Farm bill

It also appears the farm bill will again see Sept. 30 come and go without a new bill. On Saturday, September 28, the House approved the rule to allow for debate over the government funding bill without any delays, a rule which also combined the farm-only and nutrition-only farm bills back into a single comprehensive bill. Four Democrats voted yes and four Republicans voted no in what was otherwise a party-line vote

Whether this vote leads to the House appointing its farm bill conferees and starting the House-Senate farm bill conference remains to be seen, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said in a blog.

If conducted under a normal scenario, House Agriculture Committee, including especially the Subcommittee chairs and ranking members, would be considered to be conferees. There is some concern that leading Republicans who have championed big policy changes and are not on the Ag Committee will be named to the conference. "If that happens, it probably indicates an even rockier road for a House-Senate conference committee to reach agreement on a final bill than may otherwise be the case," NSAC said.

As seen last year, the impacts will take several months to come into effect which provide some hope Congress can get its act together before the end of the year.

Crop insurance and nutrition programs are effectively permanent programs and will continue without specific reauthorization. Conservation program contracts will remain in place though new enrollments will not be accepted until a new farm law is in place. Commodity-specific programs run on a crop-year basis versus a fiscal year, so they won't be impacted until next spring. Dairy prices will not be affected until Jan. 1, 2014. Programs that lost mandatory funding in the extension will continue without new funding authorizations. (Read more detail here in a new Congressional Research Report outlining what lies ahead without an extension.)