*Andy Vance is an agricultural journalist, commentator and entrepreneur who most recently led the broadcast team at Agri Broadcast Network and is an active member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Vance grew up on a farm in Hillsboro, Ohio, and raises registered Shorthorn cattle and breeding stock. Vance's web site, "The Angle," is andyvance.com. He can be contacted at [email protected]
LAST week, the Senate Agriculture Committee held its first hearing under newly minted chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.); likewise, the House Agriculture Committee, under the new leadership of chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), held a series of hearings in recent days discussing various issues confronting farmers and food producers.
With one congressional election firmly behind us and the next at least a year away, the work of the legislature finally can commence. The challenges lawmakers face are staggering. The midterm election, like the two previous cycles, cemented the reality that American taxpayers are displeased with their elected representation and, therefore, with the direction of the nation's legislative and regulatory agenda.
Early indications are that a divided government yields robust discussions on critical issues, but the curse of the ruling class is far from cured simply by shuffling chairmanships and committee rosters.
As policy watchers and prognosticators handicap some of the issues the 112th Congress is most likely to face, we know the farm bill will be among them. Likewise, we know the immediate budget battle will be hard fought and fraught with perilous decision-making.
On that front, the battle has just begun. President Barack Obama released his fiscal 2011 budget proposal -- a $3.69 trillion effort. Herein lies the first challenge for the new Congress: Voters spoke fairly clearly on the issue of government spending and tax policy, yet the President proposed a budget, according to the New York Times, some $90 billion LARGER than last year's.
See a problem?
Naturally, the Republicans and Democrats lined up on their respective sides of the political aisle and commenced firing shots at one another for various reasons, each side blaming the other for the woes of the budgetary conundrum of the Republic.
For agriculture specifically, the budget calls for a 2.5% reduction in funding for the Commodity Credit Corp., a 3.9% cut to research and educational programming, an 11.1% cut to administration, a 6.9% drop in funding for animal and plant health inspection programs and a 3.3% cut in extension funding.
For the most part, these percentages sound fairly modest, and some program areas did see budget increases under the proposal.
However, here's the news flash: The President does not write the budget. Despite the annual exercise of the chief executive submitting his proposal to Congress, the nation's founders placed the responsibility for managing our fiscal house in the hands of the legislative body.
That means for the next several days and weeks, groups ranging from the American Farm Bureau Federation to the carpenter's union will lobby members of Congress to restore, alter or enhance funding to suit their given needs and wants.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that farmers and ranchers develop and maintain a relationship and dialogue with the elected class. These members are, by and large, removed from food production at least by a generation, and the number of us actively producing the nation's daily bread is a finite number.
At the same time, it is critical to remember that we can't assume exemption from the budgetary ax. If we ask elected leaders to trim the federal budget and deal with the massive deficits built during this Administration, we can't have the mentality of "Cut the budget ... except for my pet program!"
Agriculture makes up a relatively small proportion of the federal budget, and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare have to be dealt with responsibly rather than ignored.