Washington Roundup – February 2018
Congress Passes Budget Deal and Continuing Resolution
The saga of appropriations for fiscal year 2018 continued during the month of February, as Congress attempted to avoid another government shutdown. While a deal was ultimately struck, the government did technically shutdown for a few hours. The budget deal includes a continuing resolution through March 23rd, but also provides more sweeping provisions related to overall spending.
The deal raises budget caps for domestic and defense spending by a total of about $300 billion over the next two years. Defense gets a slightly higher proportion of the increase, while agriculture and other domestic programs get the remainder. Increases to domestic programs will be helpful in relieving pressure on already tight budgets for USDA and other science related departments and agencies. However, it is not clear how much, if any, of the increases will go to agricultural research. Those decisions will be made as Congress works to finalize an omnibus appropriations bill and complete work on FY 2018.
President Trump Unveils FY 2019 Budget Proposal
While action on FY 2018 appropriations is still not complete, work on FY 2019 has already begun. On February 12th, President Trump released his FY 2019 budget proposal. The budget proposes $18 billion for USDA discretionary programs, including research. This represents a $5.8 billion reduction USDA-wide and reflects an overall decrease in funding for agricultural research. Funding for the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would collectively be reduced by approximately 14 percent.
The President’s budget would provide $1.369 billion for NIFA in FY 2019, down from the $1.525 billion estimated in FY 2018. While the budget proposal for NIFA includes some significant cuts, many major NIFA programs are roughly level funded, including Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Hatch and Smith Lever. The President's budget does not include any funds for the expanded Sec. 1433 program, which has been the norm in Presidential budgets for quite some time.
ARS would go from an estimated $1.286 billion in FY 2018 to $1.047 billion in FY 2019. Under the proposed budget, research on livestock production would decrease from $89 million to $74 million and support for livestock protection would decrease from $93 million to $89 million. Also included in the $1.047 for ARS is the proposed transfer of operational responsibility for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from the Department of Homeland Security to USDA. $42 million is requested for operations costs in 2019. If the transfer is approved, USDA would operate the NBAF and use the facility to study diseases that threaten the animal agricultural industry and public health.
Legislation Introduced to Reduce Regulatory Burden on Livestock Producers
On February 13th, a bipartisan group of 24 Senators, led by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced S. 2421, the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act (FARM Act). The FARM Act is designed to protect farmers, ranchers, and livestock markets from burdensome EPA reporting requirements for animal waste emissions. The legislation gives an exemption for animal waste emissions at farms from Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) reporting requirements. Supporters of the legislation argue that CERCLA was never intended to address animal agriculture and should be focused on industrial hazards. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which has jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency. A copy of the legislation can be found here.