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Tough love as penny-pinching of budget cuts outlined

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As members of Congress begin the task of carrying out the fiscal responsibility that the electorate said they wanted in last November’s elections, the realities of penny-pinching tough love are beginning to trickle down.

 

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes — you just might get it. That may be the case for those who’ve advocated slashing government spending and getting the nation’s fiscal house in order after a decade or more of profligacy.

As members of the New and Improved Congress miss no opportunity to preach the fiscal responsibility that the electorate said they wanted in last November’s elections, the realities of penny-pinching tough love are beginning to trickle down.

House Republicans fired an opening salvo early in the new session by voting to revert to 2008 funding levels for most domestic government agencies. A non-binding resolution would cut budgets as much as 20 percent for numerous agencies, affecting thousands of federal workers. Also in the crosshairs: cuts in Pell grants for college education, Homeland Security, the Pentagon, medical research, food safety, and even the sacrosanct FBI.

To no one’s surprise, agriculture programs, always a favorite target for budget cutters, figure prominently on the hit list of spending to be slashed and/or eliminated — a situation not without irony, given that agriculture has been strongly supportive of Republican and conservative causes.

But, as constituencies of all stripes are finding, it’s one thing to favor something in principle, but something quite different when it comes to determining who gets the short end of the stick in doling out federal dollars.

The Republican Study Committee, the conservative House caucus, has recommended cutting $15 billion in farm subsidies and replacing them with farmer savings accounts and crop insurance; eliminating the Foreign Agriculture Service, saving $2 billion-plus; merging all four agriculture outreach and research agencies and cutting their budget in half, saving $1.5 billion; and funding the Food Safety and Inspection Service with user fees, saving $1 billion.

Proposed for elimination: the Rural Utilities Service, the Economic Development Administration; Rural Housing and Development programs; the Delta Regional Authority, and others. Sen. Rand Paul, a prominent Tea Partyer, would chop 30 percent out of agriculture.

In every farm meeting these days, the litany by speakers is much the same: cuts are coming for spending on agriculture — the only questions are how much and where.

At the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered no specifics for farm program cuts, but noted, “We can’t continue to sustain high deficits — everyone’s going to have to do their part” and “make difficult choices.”

Nor did the AFBF membership put forth specifics as to where cuts should come. “Our delegates didn’t give us clear direction as to how and when and where that should occur,” said the organization’s president, Bob Stallman.

Echoing many other speakers at many other meetings, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, observed: “The 2012 farm bill is going to be the most difficult one we’ve ever had to write.”

 

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