Today, Senator Kohl held a hearing of the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee including Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan and Budget Officer at the Department of Agriculture W. Scott Steels. Below is Senator Kohl's statement at the committee hearing.
Statement of U.S. Senator Herb Kohl
Chairman, Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee
Last year this Subcommittee worked in a very bipartisan manner and that produced effective and efficient results. With an adequate budget request and allocation, there was much collaboration across the aisle. We were able to provide USDA with some much-needed increases in programs like food safety, which had been long underfunded. And we were rewarded for our bipartisan cooperation by getting our bill done nearly on time, which - - as everyone knows - - was a welcome change.
This year the numbers are little different, but I'm hopeful the process will be much the same. The President's budget proposes $21.5 billion for discretionary programs at USDA for fiscal year 2011. This is actually a decrease from last year and I am pleased USDA is showing fiscal restraint.
It is incumbent upon this Subcommittee to review these proposals with three priorities in mind. First, we need to produce a bill that protects important gains made last year. Second, we need to ensure that programs vital to people's health, safety and livelihoods are adequately funded. And third, we need to do so in a way that shows fiscal restraint and responsible austerity.
Briefly, here are a few of the major increases in the budget, as I see them:
· The WIC program, which we consider essential, receives funding necessary to provide assistance to roughly 10 million low-income women, infants, and children.
· The Food Safety and Inspection Service budget receives an increase (smaller than those of the past several years, but an increase nonetheless) in order to maintain the safety of our food supply.
· The Farm Service Agency receives a large increase in order to pay for much needed information technology upgrades, which will allow farmers to continue receiving assistance.
· There is a small increase in agriculture research funding.
· The Foreign Agricultural Service receives a significant increase for export trade activities.
· And finally we have additional, welcome emphasis on healthy, local food production.
All of these increases, however, are more than offset by decreases in other programs like conservation, research, rural development, and others. Further, the budget proposes to reduce multiple Farm Bill programs that this Subcommittee has worked to protect, and which will certainly raise opposition. None of these options are off the table, and everyone needs to be aware of that.
We all have to tighten our belts. We will certainly work to ensure that the Department has all of the funding necessary to serve the American people. While we have been able to provide some necessary increases over the past several years, we will be taking a long, hard look at the budget -- the proposed increases and new initiatives, as well as the proposed decreases.
I look forward to working again with Senator Brownback in a close bipartisan manner. We need to produce a bill that is a reflection of the importance of USDA, but also a reflection of the need to slow spending growth.