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Hill of Beans

Feb 14, 2018

By Tony Eberhard, IDFA Vice President of Legislative Affairs

Welcome to “Hill of Beans,” a periodic update by Tony Eberhard about the association’s work in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to advance dairy industry priorities. After working on the Hill for various members of Congress and senators since 2001, Eberhard gives IDFA readers a former Hill staffer’s take on what is going on and how it affects our priorities. 

“There is a lot of work being done in the House and Senate that never makes the headlines but affects members’ bottom lines, and I’m hoping these updates will prove useful to you and your organization,” Eberhard said. “I’m titling these updates ‘Hill of Beans’ because to many in national media this information might not amount to much, but to our industry’s agenda in Congress, it is critical.” Read the update below.

Proposing and Disposing

There’s an old saying about the federal budget in Congress: the President proposes and Congress disposes. In other words, the president can suggest how federal funding should be prioritized and how federal programs should change, but Congress does the actual decision-making. On Monday, President Trump did quite a bit of proposing in his Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget.

Though the details of the president’s budget aren’t binding, they serve as a starting point for discussions about the upcoming appropriations process, as well as various legislative proposals. That means it’s worth paying attention to what gets included in the president’s budget and what gets discarded – after all, nothing becomes law without the president’s signature.

A lot of attention has been paid to the president’s request for an increase in defense spending,  yet it’s also important to look at the much smaller budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Out of the total $4.4 trillion budget request, only $540 billion is for non-defense discretionary spending, and out of this amount, only about $18 billion is for the discretionary agriculture budget. Part of the cuts for USDA is coming from agriculture research. USDA’s ag research funding would be cut by hundreds of millions of dollars, which is significant for the dairy industry as we explore agriculture research opportunities for the industry (more on that opportunity in the near future).

While the discretionary agriculture budget would be cut under this budget, those cuts pale in comparison to the proposed mandatory agriculture program cuts. These are largely farm bill programs that include crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

As the House and Senate Agriculture Committees work on farm bill reauthorization legislation, the administration’s $47 billion proposed cut to farm programs and crop insurance will likely find the same fate as other administration budgets that sought large cuts to the farm safety net. For dairy, the Margin Protection Program (MPP) was not among the programs proposed to be cut, but milk was mentioned as part of the administration’s proposal to revamp SNAP.

According to the Budget’s Major Savings and Reforms section:
“The Budget proposes a bold new approach to administering SNAP that combines traditional SNAP benefits with nutritious and 100 percent American grown food provided directly to households. Under the Proposal, households receiving $90 or more per month in SNAP benefits will receive a portion of their benefits in the form of a USDA Foods package, which would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish.”

This proposal will receive a cold reception from many on Capitol Hill for a variety of reasons, but it is encouraging that when USDA thinks of nutritious foods, they think of milk – as they should.

Now that the administration has made its statement of priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, Congressional appropriations committees and authorizing committees like the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will get to the hard work of actually “disposing” – that is writing the legislation. If you do take a look at this budget, just remember that it is the first word on FY2019, but it is far from the last word.

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