Senate Agriculture leaders differ on shifting funds to farm bill
Republicans see chance to rescind money appropriated in 2022
The chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee disagree over tapping billions of dollars from a health, tax and climate law to expand baseline funding for the upcoming farm bill.
Ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., has floated the idea of rescinding money allocated for the Agriculture Department in a 2022 law to give farm bill writers more funding for programs to help farmers and ranchers cope with higher production costs and high interest rates fueled by inflation. Supply chain problems also continue to cause uncertainty, Boozman said.
Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has warned against moving the money, especially funds provided to help oversubscribed farm bill conservation programs meet demand and to expand the use of conservation practices focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The money is meant to augment farm bill spending but not be part of the farm policy law, she said.
“It is incredibly important that we not take those dollars. When we talk about the IRA, we’re talking about money for farmers and rural communities in the conservation space,” Stabenow said, referring to the title of the 2022 law, the Inflation Reduction Act. “It is incredibly important that we not take those dollars that have been specifically given for conservation and forestry.”
Boozman and Stabenow made their comments in separate appearances last week at the North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting, where each said they believe they can deliver a bipartisan multiyear farm bill. The goal is to deliver a replacement by Sept. 30, when the current farm bill expires.
Boozman said a bipartisan resolution of differences is the only way a farm bill can proceed given the narrowly divided Senate.
He said he is particularly interested in reviewing and clarifying how $18.4 billion in conservation funding in the 2022 law can be used. He said the climate provisions are fuzzy and he is concerned that traditional conservation goals of soil health and improved water quality will not be given priority.
“Climate is such a broad term,” Boozman said.
John Newton, the chief economist for Senate Agriculture Republicans, told the journalists that GOP members are eying about $37 billion for USDA programs in the 2022 law. Newton said there have been discussions about rescinding the money.
“Through a rescission, you would strike those provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. That would reduce the deficit spending, and then you spend it again in the farm bill with zero impact on the deficit,” Newton said, adding that the money could stay in conservation programs, but not necessarily for carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas mitigation.
“I think if that money is moved into the farm bill it would be part of a bipartisan discussion on how to allocate those resources,” Newton said.
Boozman said questions remain as to how much of the funding the Congressional Budget Office could allow to be credited to the 2023 farm bill baseline.
“It won’t be dollar for dollar,” he said.
Stabenow also raised concerns about House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., including provisions in a debt ceiling bill that would expand the number of able-bodied adults subject to time limits on food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The program falls under the farm bill and has been a flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans in past farm bills.
Stabenow said she worries that more of the farm bill could be pulled into a broader fight on the debt limit because of the focus on limiting mandatory spending.
“When Republicans are talking about mandatory spending, they act like it’s just food programs or Medicaid. Mandatory spending is the farm bill,” Stabenow said. “Mandatory spending is the commodity title. The crop insurance title, that’s mandatory spending."
Stabenow said the farm bill baseline lost $23 billion as part of a 2011 debt ceiling agreement that required across-the-board spending cuts. As a result, she said farm bill spending will be trimmed by 5.7 percent until fiscal 2031.