Is the Ryan budget the beginning...or the end?
This past week was all about the Ryan budget. Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his plan for the budget, which was then passed out of the Budget Committee by just one vote and is expected to be on the House floor next week.
The budget kicks off in a formal way many legislative plans. It can be a guiding document for future legislation, and it can include instructions to other Committees on what they need to do to meet certain spending or revenue targets.
With regard to the farm bill and agriculture, the Ryan Budget instructs the Agriculture Committee to come up with $33.2 billion in cuts over the next ten years. In the summary document that was released with the legislation, Chairman Ryan suggests that this be done through reduced fixed, direct payments and through a reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies. The plan also indicates support for converting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the food stamp program) to a state block grant program. You can find this document here.
IF the Senate were in agreement on these approaches and numbers, then we would be looking at a very real possibility of those $33.2 billion in cuts would happen through a farm bill that would be rolled into a "budget reconciliation bill". The Agriculture Committees would still be given an opportunity to craft those cuts the way they want, but they would be under a great deal of pressure to come up with that number.
BUT the Senate is not in agreement. So what does this budget mean? First, as many observers have mentioned, it decreases the likelihood of a farm bill being enacted before September 30. The House and Senate budget-minders are worlds apart from one another, and this budget still faces a test on the House floor. Even if the House were to pass this budget and the Agriculture Committee create a bill that would accomplish the cuts, you have to wonder, "To what end?" since the Senate is unlikely to take up the package and certainly will go a different path with the funds.
How does it complicate Senate action on the farm bill? Since it has been expected that the Senate will move first on a farm bill this year, what numbers will they use to guide their actions? Some Senators could seize on the Ryan budget as a sign that the other Chamber will be unlikely to come to terms with them this year, thereby casting some doubt on a farm bill coming out of the Senate. Or it could go the other way, and the Senate could produce a farm bill, with expected fewer reductions in spending in the hopes of setting the bar high for any comparisons with the House. Either way, it causes a problem were the House and Senate to try to conference legislation before September. Chairman Lucas in the House would presumably hold tight to his majority's bottom-line number, and it would likely give him little negotiating room. Chairwoman Stabenow in the Senate would be unlikely to accept an ultimatum from the House based on budget numbers that the Senate never accepted.
The big question now would be how such a stalemate affects the possibility of extending the farm bill when efforts to pass a new one fail. Stay tuned...