AVMA, NAFV make the rounds on Capitol Hill

April 2012

By Gina Luke, assistant director of the AVMA GRD

To combat the continued assault on the budgets of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies that employ large numbers of veterinarians, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) along with the National Association for Federal Veterinarians (NAFV) have ramped up their advocacy efforts to educate lawmakers with seats on House and Senate Appropriations and Agriculture Committees as well as other key lawmakers.

The central focus of our meetings with lawmakers is to draw their attention to the critical role that veterinarians at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) play in disease surveillance, animal health and welfare, agricultural trade, and safeguarding the U.S. food supply and animal production. Included in those discussions are the implications of that further budget cuts will have on the agency, as it is once again being targeted for "savings" that will be used to reduce federal budget deficit. Congress cannot afford to be pennywise and pound foolish with APHIS, which is so critical to U.S. trade and to our nation's ability to feed both our country and the rest of the world.

APHIS' budget is closely tied to the Farm Bill, which will be reauthorized in 2012. In 2011, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees provided the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the Supercommittee) a farm bill proposal that would have cut $23 billion over 10 years from programs under their jurisdiction. While the Supercommittee did not come to an agreement, it is evident that agriculture is looking at significant budget reductions over the next ten years.

In February 2012, President Obama released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget which funds the USDA at $154.5 billion, $4 billion over the estimated FY2012 budget and a $15 billion increase over what was actually spent in FY2011. USDA discretionary funding is proposed at $22.96 billion, a 3 percent or $700 million decrease below the FY 2012 enacted level. APHIS' budget is part of this discretionary funding.

The President's budget proposal did not provide details for the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that resulted from the Supercommittee's inability to reach agreement on federal budget cuts over a ten-year period. APHIS' FY 2013 proposed budget is $765 million, a $51.5 million cut on top of over $136 million in cuts between 2010 and 2012.

To add insult to injury, on March 20, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) released his FY13 budget resolution which puts a $1.028 trillion limit on discretionary spending for FY 2013, lower than the $1.047 trillion limit lawmakers previously approved. Rep. Ryan instructs six House committees (Agriculture, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means) to find savings to help short-circuit sequestration in 2013 and limit cuts to the defense department budget. Ryan's budget gives the committees target numbers for reductions, but it's up to committee members to decide where to make the cuts. In terms of the USDA budget, the House Agriculture Committee is instructed to cut a total of $180 billion from USDA programs, including more than $30 billion from farm safety net programs and crop insurance.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will then use the spending caps and the President's budget as a guideline to determine agriculture program funding for FY 2013.

In addition to our focus on APHIS, we are also urging Congress to fund the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, Minor Use Animal Drug Program, and agricultural research at the Agricultural Research Service, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Animal Health and Disease Research. While AVMA and NAFV will continue to make our cases, readers are urged to contact their respective delegations to ask Congress to stop cutting funding from APHIS and to prioritize funding for the above mentioned programs.

View AVMA's Appropriations Issue Briefs, the President's FY13 budget proposal for agriculture and Rep. Ryan's Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal.

For more information please contact Gina Luke, assistant director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

The AVMA Advocate - News Bites - April 2012