Washington Update for the Week of September 18, 2012
A weekly legislative update from Bread for the World's government relations team.
The House and Senate are both in session beginning Wednesday of this week due to the Jewish holidays. They won’t stay in session long, though. It’s an election year, and members of Congress are eager to get home to campaign.
Programs that help people who are hungry and poor have been consistently under threat of devastating cuts during budget negotiations—whether that be the annual budget for the next year or a comprehensive deficit reduction bill that budgets for the next 10 years. New developments affecting those negotiations include a continuing resolution passed in the House, a new report from the administration outlining the effects of across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to begin in January, and the bipartisan negations being conducted by the Gang of Eight in the Senate.
Last week, the House passed a six-month continuing resolution (CR, temporarily funding government operations until a budget is passed) to fund federal discretionary programs at roughly current levels, plus a 0.6 percent increase for the first part of the 2013 fiscal year. The Senate is expected to vote on (and pass) the CR this week.
The farm bill—a bill which governs federal farm and food policy—is set to expire on September 30, 2012, and programs for two of Bread for the World's mini-campaigns, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and International Food Aid, are authorized through the legislation. The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill last June. However, with seemingly no chance of leadership allowing floor time for the House Committee on Agriculture farm bill, Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley filed what is called a discharge petition. If signed by a majority of the House (218 members), it would force the House to vote on the bill. The petition had 27 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
Congress could still pass a farm bill extension before September 30 or they could let the bill expire and deal with an extension or re-authorization in the lame duck session in November/December once the outcome of the elections is clear.
On Friday, the administration released its sequestration report ($1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to begin in January and last nine years), detailing how automatic cuts would be implemented. The report, well over 300 pages, provides an estimate of the percentages and dollar amounts that would be cut from every discretionary and mandatory spending account at the program, project, and activity levels, as well as a list of accounts that are exempt from cuts. The negotiated CR does not alter the path of sequestration.
The bipartisan group of Senators called the Gang of Eight continues to meet, trying to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan deficit reduction agreement that would replace the sequester with a comprehensive plan for deficit reduction, including additional tax revenues and further spending cuts. If successful in reaching a deal that Congress enacts, their proposal could determine the available funding for programs for hungry and poor people for the next 10 years. Those involved in the Gang of Eight include Senators Warner (D-VA), Durbin (D-IL) , Conrad (D-ND), Bennet (D-CO), Chambliss (R-GA), Crapo (R-ID), Coburn (R-OK), and Johanns (R-NE).
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the food stamp program) is reauthorized through the farm bill. The Senate’s farm bill included a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP. In July, the version introduced in the House agricultural committee included a $16 billion cut to the nutrition assistance program. If made into law, this cut could kick 2-3 million people out of the program and end free school meals for approximately 280,000 low-income children.
Although the farm bill expires on September 30, the six-month continuing resolution agreed to by the House and Senate this month provided the necessary budget authority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue administering the program. In the Budget Control Act, means-tested poverty programs such as SNAP were exempted from sequestration or automatic cuts that are scheduled to take effect January.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is facing potentially devastating cuts. Although the continuing resolution would extend funding through March at levels agreed to last August in the Budget Control Act, WIC is subject to approximately 8.2 percent in automatic cuts on January 2 if Congress fails to come up with a deficit reduction plan to replace the sequester. This cut could mean a loss of benefits for more than 700,000 low-income women and young children.
Poverty-focused foreign aid makes up a small part of total discretionary funding, which must be approved by Congress each year in the appropriations process. The continuing resolution passed in the House would fund programs at the Senate levels for FY 2013. But, like WIC, PFFA is subject to cuts in January when sequestration is enacted. The programs would take an 8.2 percent cut, according to the OMB report.
The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire at the end of this year, and Congress is in the midst of debating which parts to extend, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit.
We expect the tax credits to be an important issue in the lame duck session, along with the rest of the tax cuts. The bipartisan negotiations with the Gang of Eight senators are also looking at the tax credits as part of the tax cuts and possibilities for tax reform.
Food aid is reauthorized in the farm bill process and funded in the appropriations process. Like other discretionary programs, funding is extended at Senate levels for the FY2013 budget as part of the continuing resolution. Food aid is still subject to sequester and may be cut by 8.2 percent, which would result in at least 2 million people losing access to vital food assistance.
We continue to urge congress and the administration to form a circle of protection around programs that help hungry and poor people. Join us today, September 18, for our national grassroots webinar and conference call (4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST) to learn more. Register now. Along with organizing staff, your government relations team will map out the next few months and tell you ways in which you can influence the outcome of budget negotiations. We continue to answer God’s call to speak to lawmakers who make decisions that affect hungry and poor people.
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