President Obama released his proposed Federal budget on Monday. Among several changes, he called for a freeze on annual domestic spending over the next five years. He says this freeze would cut the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next ten years. However he says cutting annual domestic spending won't be enough to meet long-term fiscal challenges, and he pledges to work with members of both parties to take steps beyond the freeze.
While talking with reporters Monday about the budget pertaining to USDA, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the new budget will mean some challenging and difficult choices.
"We are in a recovering economy and one of the great challenges in rural America is how we continue to promote job growth," Vilsack said. "So we need to focus our resources in the most effective way we can to promote rural development and economic development."
Vilsack said because the country is in a recovering economy there are still families and people in need and the budget needs to reflect that reality and the need for food assistance with food purchases and housing.
"Regardless of economic conditions some things remain constant," Vilsack said. "There is certainly the need for safe food as well as the need for us to continue focusing on the conservation and preservation of our natural resources."
Vilsack outlined several steps that have been taken to reflect the realities of the current situation. Among the steps taken is $4 billion less in discretionary spending for agriculture in 2012 than in 2011, while total outlays are $7 billion less. Other cuts are being made through elimination of loan guarantees, reforming the direct payment system, and elimination of some programs that fall under the jurisdiction of other agencies.
"We're proposing reductions in some conservation programs while increasing others," Vilsack said. "Reductions in the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program and the Grassland Reserve Program will be offset by continued increases in EQIP and the CSP."
Rural Development funding will be decreased and there will be a workforce reduction within the agency to increase administration efficiency and better management of resources.
"Budgets are always difficult," Vilsack said. "They involve a variety of choices and this budget tries to deal with all the realities and challenges."