WITH the constant discussion of budget deficits, one would think the nation doesn't have any money coming in. However, the federal government will take in more money this year than ever before, but it's still running up a trillion-dollar deficit.
As for the $85 billion coming down the pike from the sequester, it's a pretty miniscule amount considering the federal government's budget of $3.8 trillion.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) told farmers last week that there are "smarter ways to cut spending than sequestration," but in the end, it is "time for Washington to get serious about spending."
So, we've got a stalemate in Washington: The White House and Democrats want a combination of tax increases and less spending, while Republicans are sticking with their call to cut spending.
Former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer joined Boehner at his Farm Forum March 2 and said, during his time as governor of North Dakota, he made what ended up being a 10% cut in the cost of government over his eight years in office.
"History shows us that revenue increases come and efficiencies in government do not," Schafer said, which is why he chose to make the tough decisions on spending.
Schafer said the annual operating budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture was $19 billion when he was at the helm in 2008, but today, the agency's budget is $24 billion.
"I thought I was doing good, but you can't tell me we can't find somewhere to save money in the USDA budget by creating more efficiencies and less-costly operations without affecting your lives," he said.
Current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been touting his efforts to reduce spending as a proactive measure. The result has been $700 million in cuts from workforce reductions, closed offices and laboratories, implementing modern cloud computing efforts to cut costs and more. Vilsack said he received 340 recommendations from more than 1,000 USDA employees, including 240 new recommendations for saving money.
In a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the rural economy, Vilsack took quite a bit of heat over how USDA handled publicizing the food safety inspection furloughs that will be part of the sequester.
Vilsack asserted that the sequester does not allow him to move funds from one account to another to lessen the blow of the cuts because Congress designed the sequester to make across-the-board cuts.
Many reports indicate that a final deal to resolve the continuing resolution that expires at the end of the month will include a fix that gives agencies more latitude in how to apply the sequester cuts. The furloughs aren't expected to have any impact for several more months.
Vilsack was asked numerous times what changes he would make if he had more flexibility on implementing the sequester, but each time, he dodged giving specifics on how to reduce costs without affecting crucial programs.
Also last week, Vilsack and the Administration were criticized about an internal email leak from an Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service regional director who made suggestions on how to avoid furloughs but was told not to contradict what the Administration already said the impact would be.
USDA released a statement explaining that the "employee's suggestion had already been communicated to Congress as part of the Administration's (fiscal 2013) budget proposal and will be included as part of the sequestration plan."
Tough decisions lie ahead. The question remains whether the people in charge can make the right decisions without politicizing our tax dollars.