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Washington Update for the Week of Sept. 24, 2012
The House and Senate are both on recess until after the November 6 elections. They are expected to return to Washington as early as November 13. For information on communicating with your members of Congress during this campaign season, contact your regional organizer or use our online election resources.
Election season is in full swing. While members of Congress finalized a stop-gap spending bill that will fund federal programs through March of next year, they put off acting on other pieces of legislation, including the farm bill. After November, members of Congress will make difficult decisions about deficit reduction, particularly the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts scheduled to take effect in January and the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Bread members must continue to push for a proposal that safeguards programs that help vulnerable people in the United States and abroad.
This week, the Senate 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 CR also included a clean six-month extension of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The negotiated CR does not alter the path of scheduled across-the-board spending cuts, or sequestration, which is still scheduled to go into effect January 2. The House passed the CR last week.
The House and Senate left Washington without taking action on the farm bill—a bill governing federal farm and food policy. The current farm bill is set to expire on September 30, 2012. This legislation governs domestic nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), and international food aid programs that are vital to hungry and poor people. Leadership in both chambers have indicated that they will take action on the farm bill after the elections, during the lame duck session of Congress. The Senate continues to push for a full five-year reauthorization of the farm bill while the House is open to a temporary extension with the full bill being resolved next year. How leaders decide to move forward will be informed by the outcome of November elections.
While farm programs technically expire on September 30, harmful administrative changes (like federal farm commodity price supports reverting to 1949 law) will not go into effect right away. The 2008 farm bill covers all of 2012’s calendar year crops, allowing some wiggle room for Congress to decide how to move forward. Additionally, provisions included in the continuing resolution secure SNAP funding through next year. The last time the farm bill was allowed to expire was in 2007, when the bill expired on September and an extension was not passed until December 26.
The bipartisan group of Senators called the Gang of Eight continues its work to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan package that would replace the sequester and expiring tax cuts with a framework for deficit reduction, including additional tax revenues and further spending cuts. While producing a deal laying out the specifics of what programs to cut and what taxes to raise is unrealistic for the lame duck session, the proposal could establish a process for committees to find the specific savings. If successful in reaching a deal that Congress enacts, the Gang of Eight 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).
More than 80 members have cosponsored House Resolution 760, which rejects the cuts to SNAP included in the proposed House farm bill (H.R. 6083). The resolution is non-binding, but it is an opportunity for members of Congress to show strong support for protecting SNAP by cosponsoring the resolution. We are encouraging Bread members to ask their representatives to cosponsor. A full list of cosponsors can be found online.
On Friday afternoon, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), along with Reps. Paul Broun (R-GA), Steve Chabot (R-OH), and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), introduced a proposal to block-grant farm bill nutrition programs. Under this plan, SNAP, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, Community Food Projects, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program would be consolidated into a single block grant to the states, with funding returned to FY2008 levels. Members argue this proposal will streamline programs and give states more flexibility while cutting spending. Like other SNAP block grant proposals introduced this Congress, this proposal will not likely become law, despite possible attempts to attach it to a moving farm bill in the lame duck session. For more information on why block-granting SNAP would be harmful, please see our Block Grants 101 fact sheet.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is facing potentially devastating cuts. Although the continuing resolution extends 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. These cuts 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 funds programs at the Senate levels for FY 2013. 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. These cuts could mean lives lost around the world. For example, as a result of the sequester:
- 276,500 fewer people would receive HIV/AIDS treatment, potentially leading to 63,000 more AIDS-related deaths and 124,000 more children being orphaned.
- 656,000 fewer children annually will have access to quality primary school education, making their road to overcoming poverty that much harder.
Earlier in the week, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) submitted a proposal to cut off aid to several countries, including Pakistan, Libya, and Egypt. The Paul amendment failed by a vote of 10-81.
The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act (S. 3310), introduced by Senator Lugar, with support from Senator Rubio, was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19. The objective of this bill is to improve transparency and accountability within U.S. foreign aid by instituting a standard monitoring and evaluation requirement across all agencies that administer U.S. foreign assistance. Additionally, it calls for information garnered from the evaluations to be made public. The companion legislation is the Poe-Berman bill in the House. Our hope is that both bills will be taken up by the full House and Senate during the lame duck session.
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 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 over 3 million people losing access to vital food assistance and 377,200 fewer children having access to quality primary school education.
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