House passes Ag funding — $136 Billion

House Approves Bill with Ag Approps, Short-Term CR
By National Association of Wheat Growers

The House of Representatives passed Thursday afternoon by a 298 to 121 vote the conference report of a spending bill incorporating FY2012 agriculture program funding and a four-week continuing resolution to fund much of the rest of the federal government.  The measure, which is being called a “minibus,” also includes funding for transportation, housing, commerce, science and justice programs. It is expected to be taken up by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama on Friday, the day the current continuing resolution expires.

USDA agencies and programs funded in the bill will receive $136.6 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, a reduction of $4.6 billion from the Obama Administration’s request. Discretionary spending alone makes up $19.8 billion of the total, $350 million below last year’s level and $2.5 billion below the Administration’s request.

Agricultural research programs took a hit in the bill, though conferees avoided the draconian cuts included the House-passed appropriations measure.

According to a Senate Appropriations Committee summary of the bill, it provides $2.297 billion for the National Institute on Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), which is approximately $12 million below the Senate level and $282 million above the House.

The Senate’s number for ARS prevailed, with the bill ultimately providing $1.095 billion, down from $1.133 billion in FY2011. The House had proposed a funding level of $995.3 million, which would have represented a cut of more than 12 percent.

The bill’s conference committee also largely rejected House-level cuts to conservation programs.

Overall, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs were funded at $844 million, down $45 million from FY2011. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is capped at $1.4 billion, the Conservation Security Program (CSP) is capped at $768.4 million and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is capped to enroll not more than 185,800 acres – all increases above the House-passed level.

In the area of energy programs, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is capped at $17 million and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is capped at $22 million. BCAP had been zeroed out by the House.

The bill fully funded both the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program. These programs share costs with agricultural producers for overseas promotion and are key to the wheat industry’s marketing work around the world.

The bill also included an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to cap at $1 million the adjusted gross income (AGI) level under which individuals can receive direct payments.

Completion of the minibus will finalize three of 12 appropriations bills for the new fiscal year, which started on Oct. 1. The remaining nine regular bills will almost certainly be lumped into an omnibus piece of legislation, though that process remains unclear.

The continuing resolution in the legislation simply extends current funding levels until Dec. 16 without changing funding levels for any of the programs it covers.

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