Members of the U.S. Senate approved the $182 billion bipartisan 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill Tuesday as part of a larger appropriations process that will soon be merged with an earlier offering by the U.S. House. The bill represents a 15-percent reduction in agriculture funding levels since fiscal year 2010 while the House version cut funding 26 percent.
The 2012 fiscal year package, which was a three-part "minibus," included appropriations for several departments and agencies in addition to agriculture - commerce, justice, science, transportation and housing and urban development. The final vote in the Senate was 69-30.
Both the House and Senate offerings call for continued cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program. The Senate makes cuts of 12 percent, or $726 million (which is in addition to $500 million that was cut as part of the fiscal year 2011 appropriations process). The House bill makes cuts of $1 billion in addition to the earlier cuts.
In general, the House agriculture appropriations bill differs from the Senate bill by making steeper cuts nearly across the board, although they both offer significant reductions.
The House voted on Thursday to send the agriculture bill to a conference committee. It's the first step in reconciling the House version of the appropriations bill with the Senate version.
When the agriculture appropriation bill goes into the conference committee, it is no longer subject to amendments but will nonetheless exit a changed bill as the visions of the two chambers are shaped into one bill.
Funding for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, is set to expire Nov. 18 under a stopgap bill passed in September.
"Key topics, such as Wildlife Services, have the same increase in operations funding for livestock in both versions demonstrating the strong support for livestock protection," stated Peter Orwick, executive director for the American Sheep Industry Association. "The bill would provide $4 million in operations beyond the President's budget."