Trillions of dollars and thousands of pages: Ag’s slice of major spending bills
Voting on the final day of September to raise the debt ceiling passed with the spending plan and reconciliation bill still looming.
The House Budget Committee prepared a nearly 500-page report on the Build Better Act, the spending plan that is slated to cost trillions.
Within the agricultural portion of the provisions, within the forestry subtitle, billions of dollars are appropriated for fuels removal along the wildland-urban interface; vegetation management; trail maintenance, forest protection; and the development of a Civilian Climate Corps.
In the rural development and energy subtitle, funds are outlined for rural water and wastewater programs and grants through Rural Energy Savings. In the research and urban agriculture subtitle, $545 million are outlined for USDA’s Rural Development mission area, as well as for research and data collection costs. Additionally, funds are earmarked for climate change research, education programs, grant funds all relating to climate change. There are also grants and scholarships for tribal and other underserved students and funds to cover the costs of urban agriculture studies.
Miscellaneous costs include $5 million to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture for audits, investigations, and other oversight activities.
The Committee Print was reviewed by the agriculture committee on Sept. 10 and 34 amendments were offered, all by Republicans. Amendments, including one to reduce overall spending under the title by two-thirds failed on party lines.
The minority, led by Rep. Leader Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said the bill casts aside the House Agriculture Chair’s commitment to find commonsense solutions for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities,
The representatives called the bill unvetted and laced with short-sighted policies and the Committee Print review process was fatally flawed, resulting in “a reckless and wasteful bill that ignores the immediate and critical needs of rural America. As the Republican members of this committee, we could not in good faith support such a defective process or product.”
The $3.5 trillion in spending, the minority said, is one of the deep-seated problems with the bill, including the $89.1 billion within the jurisdiction of the House Agriculture Committee.
“This spending comes on the heels of trillions of dollars in COVID relief as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit spending under the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2), all of which has presumably gone out the door without an ounce of Congressional oversight,” the opinion read. “One would think if this committee intended to spend $89.1 billion — a number comparable to the combined five-year baseline for crop insurance, conservation, and commodity programs under the 2018 farm bill — there would be a deliberative and public process with stakeholder testimony to inform its development. Our constituents deserve nothing less.”
The minority wrote that the legislation was drafted behind closed doors by Democrat leadership. In addition to it being unvetted, they claim “Republican members of this committee did not see language until less than 24-hours before the business meeting commenced, and only seconds before it was released to the public. Importantly, this occurred after we called on the chairman to engage in a transparent process. However, by not sharing the text with sufficient time to evaluate the impacts, the majority thwarted the ability of the Republicans, and many committee Democrat members, to participate in the markup. That is the antithesis of transparency. More concerning than not having a meaningful debate about spending and policy is not having the opportunity to debate at all.”
In the minority summary, Thompson wrote that when the text was released, it was $22 billion short of the committee’s instructions under the house-passed budget resolution and the chairman indicated an additional $28 billion in spending would be added to the bill by Democrat leadership after the committee completed the markup, a move the minority called “a stunning dereliction of process.”
“While the Majority has touted this package as being responsive to the needs of rural Americans, on two of the most salient issues facing farm families — taxes and the farm safety net — this legislation is silent,” Thompson wrote. “There is not one word in this bill addressing the devastating consequences of the tax policies proposed by this administration in the Democrats’ broader reconciliation package.”
FORESTS, CLIMATE AND SNAP
Other concerns under the forestry subtitle include restrictions on commercial fuel reduction projects; restrictions on salvage logging; significant restrictions on restoration projects; and billions of dollars for non-essential activities such as the Civilian Climate Corps, mature forest protection, species protection, the Forest Legacy Program, and urban and community forest acquisition.
Within the research and urban agriculture subtitle, the minority criticized the committee’s investments, saying it “completely misses the mark in providing the proper resources to ensure American producers can continue to provide the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food and fiber supply in history. Instead of providing funding for the various, far-reaching department research programs, the majority restricted the funding to only those projects that pertain to climate change research.”
In the miscellaneous subtitle, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was addressed. Thompson wrote the cost of the program more than doubled from $37.6 billion in 2008, to nearly $80 billion at its peak in 2013. In 2019, the lowest participation numbers were recorded since 2008, with 35.7 million individuals receiving the benefit totaling $60.3 billion in taxpayer dollars. At the onset of the pandemic, 36.8 million people were receiving benefits. However, by June 2021-the most recent month with available data — the rolls increased to 42.34 million people. The average benefit per person was $121.13 in February 2020, which increased to $227.23 by June 2021. There was a slight uptick in enrollment in early 2021, likely due to the exclusion of pandemic unemployment insurance as found in December’s Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Total FY2020 spending on SNAP was $79.2 billion, and thus far in FY2021, $83.6 billion.
Thompson wrote that by not expecting productivity from able-bodied, childless SNAP recipients between the ages of 18-49, in addition to job and wage-killing policies is “failing Main Street.” According to USDA research, only 29 percent of able-bodied, childless adults between the ages of 18 and 49 report earned income.
The Methane Emission Reduction Act of 2021, S. 645, which was considered as an amendment to the larger spending act in committee, garnered viral social media shares that included Congressman Markwayne Mullin’s, R-Okla., “Blank Check for Socialism” oped. In his column, Mullin claimed “this legislation would impose a “fee” on all methane emissions, including in our agriculture industry. We all know that a fee is just a tax and that consumers are the ones who will pay for it. The tax is estimated to cost $6,500 per dairy cow, $2,600 per head of cattle, and $500 per swine each year. That is more than what the animals are worth, it’ll run ranchers out of business.”
Meredith Blanford, a spokesperson for Mullin, said the numbers illustrated the fees if applied to agriculture.
“Right now the text of the bill only specifies the oil and gas industry, but it also references EPA’s GHG (greenhouse gas) inventory and leaves too much room for the EPA to expand its regulatory reach,” Blanford said. “However, during mark-up in the energy and commerce, Republicans offered an amendment that would clarify that this methane tax would not apply to agriculture and the Democrats voted it down. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, even pointed out in her remarks that the ag industry was a larger source of methane emissions compared to oil and gas.”
The numbers listed in Mullins’ column come from an analysis from the American Farm Bureau Federation. At the rate of $1,500 per metric ton of methane, as proposed, the overall impact on agriculture would be about $414.45 billion.
The text of the bill, however, establishes “a fee that EPA must impose upon and collect from the owner or operator of certain facilities that report methane emissions under Subpart W of the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program for petroleum and natural gas production industry segments.” Agriculture is not mentioned.
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