February 1, 2013
Leaders from Congress and the White House reached an 11th hour agreement to avert (or at least postpone) the so-called fiscal cliff over the New Year’s holiday. While the fiscal cliff was averted, the fate of spending cuts was not addressed in the deal. Congress and the White House agreed to postpone the issue of spending cuts for another two months, setting up another “fiscal cliff” that will need to be addressed. This leads to continued uncertainty for the funding that will be made available for agricultural research in 2013 and future budget years.
Included in the recently agreed-to fiscal cliff package is an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The nine month extension was a disappointment for many farm state lawmakers who had hoped that a comprehensive rewrite of the Farm Bill could be attached to the legislation. However, when it became clear that a broader Farm Bill package would not be possible, leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees acquiesced to the extension. Fears over what was dubbed the “dairy cliff” and the potential for $8 gallon milk helped spur the need for immediate action.
Committee leaders have indicated their interest in moving quickly in 2013 on a full five year Farm Bill. One of the issues driving quick action is the new budget baseline that will be released in March. The new baseline could mean that additional cuts to Farm Bill programs would be necessary to achieve the same level of savings contained in the House and Senate versions of the bill that were considered in 2012.
While there is desire to move a new Farm Bill early in 2013, recent changes in the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee may slow consideration in that chamber. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi exerted his seniority on the committee and took the Ranking Member position from Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, thus making him the highest ranking Republican on the Committee. Cochran and other Southern senators were unhappy with the Senate version passed in 2012 and it is expected that as Ranking Member, Cochran will work to make changes to the commodity provisions. It is also expected that Cochran will make some changes to the Agriculture Committee staff. These factors are likely to slow down the process in the Senate.
Appropriations for fiscal year 2013 are operating under a continuing resolution through the end of March 2013. This continuing resolution (CR) provides level funding for federal expenditures. House and Senate Appropriations Committees had been preparing for an omnibus spending package at the end of December, but the measure was never brought forward because of the fiscal cliff situation. It is unclear if the committees will be able to advance an omnibus bill that would cover the remainder of fiscal year 2013, or if the CR will be extended through the end of the fiscal year. Uncertainty over the fate of 2013 funding has led agencies such as NIFA to be very cautious in the expenditure of funds until a final spending package is approved.
The fiscal year 2014 budget is also being impacted by the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff. President Obama has announced that the release of his 2014 budget proposal will be delayed and not likely released until sometime in March. Agencies finally received their “pass backs”, (internal budget reviews) which form the basis of the President’s budget during the week of January 28th. These are normally received around Thanksgiving, further indicating the delayed timeline.
In late December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its long awaited environmental assessment for the application to approve genetically engineered salmon. Along with the environmental assessment, FDA issued a finding of no significant impact. The documents are currently open for public comment. Consumer groups are strongly criticizing FDA’s draft findings, which if finalized would pave the way for approval of GE salmon. While not taking a position on the application in question, FASS has joined with like-minded groups in support of FDA’s science based process for evaluating applications for GE products.
FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel will be attending the ASAS and ADSA Board meetings in Orlando in early February. Lowell will provide the boards an update on FASS Science Policy activities and key policy issues being debated in Washington. Lowell Randel and Walt Smith will also participate in the annual Animal Science Department Heads Meeting in Tampa to discuss FASS Science Policy.
Members of the FASS Science Policy Committee are planning to meet in Washington, DC on March 4-5, 2013. The committee will meet with key agency representatives, Congressional staff and industry organizations. The trip will also provide the committee the opportunity to discuss strategies for the remainder of 2013.
FASS Washington Representatives are working with the Council on Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (C-FARE) to sponsor a webinar on “pink slime”. The webinar is scheduled to take place on February 15th. Chad Carr from the University of Florida will represent FASS and discuss the science and safety of lean finely textured beef, commonly known as pink slime. FASS Washington Representatives have distributed the webinar announcement to the Animal Agriculture Coalition and other key stakeholders in Washington. The full webinar announcement is attached to this report.