Ag Caught In Middle of Sequester Shenanigans

Politicizing food safety inspector furloughs to questionable stances on how to handle APHIS sequester cuts, fact remains that spending is our issue.

Even when Congress writes its own rules, it can't seem to abide by them. Add March 1 to the latest string of missed deadlines Congress has imposed on its self only to later be unable to stand up to its promises.

Automatic spending cuts or sequestration was always designed to be a threat – a catalyst to get politics out of the way and bring folks to the table. Instead, everyone is worrying about who they can pin the most political fallout to from the charade.

The White House continues to lack leadership on the problem and has treated this more as a campaign issue then the reality that exists of taking an axe to the nation's budget rather than a scalpel with precision. The House said it's already passed two bills that would avert the spending cuts and instead waits for the Senate. And that Democrat plan in the Senate to eliminate direct payments and pay for all the non-defense cuts, that's dead in the water too along with a counter Republican approach (which left direct payments in place).

But it's not a revenue problem we've got going on, it's a spending issue. The government is on track to take in more revenue than ever before this year, while still running up a trillion, that's with a T, deficits.

The political spin has been on overdrive the last few months. Before the fiscal cliff deal it was the threat of $8 milk at the grocery store which was the spark to get the farm bill extended. For the sequestration, the Administration has used the forced furloughs of Food and Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) employees as the "scare tactic" to try to get action.

In a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the rural economy Vilsack took quite a bit of heat on USDA's handling of publicizing the food safety furloughs that will be part of the sequestration. Vilsack continued to contend that the sequester does not provide him the ability to move funds from one account to another to lessen the blow of the sequestration because of how Congress designed the sequester to be across-the-board. Many reports indicate a final deal to resolve the continuing resolution that expires at the end of the month will include a fix giving agencies more latitude in how to apply the cuts. Any impact of furloughs isn't expected for several more months.

Numerous times he was asked if given more flexibility on implementing the sequester, what changes would he make. Each time Vilsack dodged specifics on how to reduce costs without impacting crucial programs.

This week Vilsack and the Administration also took heat over an internal email leak from an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regional director who made suggestions on how to avoid furloughs but was told not to contradict what the Administration had already said would be the impact. (see video link above)

Vilsack in response to questioning from Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) about the leak said if the agency has flexibility, they're going to try to use it. Noem said the agency's comments were concerning about whether producers would be put first in decisions or if it was top down from the Administration.

USDA released a statement explaining the "employee's suggestion had already been communicated to Congress as part of the Administration's FY2013 budget proposal and will be included as part of the sequestration plan."

Tough decisions are going to be ahead. The question remains whether those in charge can make the right decisions without politicizing our tax dollars.  

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