Taking Preemptive Action: Advocacy Before the Lame-Duck Session
Congress has been very active on the farm bill and appropriations, although without any final resolutions. Enormous pressure remains to cut funding for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), international food aid, poverty-focused development assistance, and many other low-income programs.
The Senate passed a farm bill in June by a vote of 64-35. The bill cut SNAP by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years. Bread for the World members made a strong call to support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) amendment, which restored those cuts. Although that amendment ultimately failed, Bread for the World members were successful in helping defeat harmful amendments that would have cut SNAP further. Additionally, the final bill included some good reforms to international food aid and to crop insurance. The process now turns to the House where the Agriculture Committee started marking up its own bill on July 11.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill out of committee. This bill funds both domestic and international anti-hunger programs such as WIC, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and international food aid. While funding levels aren't necessarily robust, these programs are funded significantly higher than what the House proposed last year. This is likely because members of Congress remember the outrage they heard one year ago over the draconian cuts proposed.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the FY2013 State Foreign Operations bill. Overall, the Senate provided exceptionally strong funding for poverty-focused development assistance. Most accounts were increased significantly over current levels and over the president’s request levels.
None of these bills will become law before the November elections. Instead, Congress will wait until the lame duck session—the period after the elections, but before the newly elected Congress begins in January.
All these decisions will collide with major budget policy choices at the end of the year. This includes the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, appropriations for the year, and $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that will begin to take effect in January, affecting all yearly appropriated spending programs. Finally, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again. Given the magnitude of these decisions, members of Congress won't necessarily be thinking about how these policies will impact hungry and poor people. But they should, and we need to remind them that ending hunger and poverty must be a priority in federal budget decisions. Your senators and representatives need you to elevate these programs in their minds, and they need to hear from you today. Already, the halls of Congress are filled with talk about how to resolve these end-of-the-year issues.
If we wait until the lame duck session, it will be too late. Those decisions will be made quickly. Your members of Congress need to look at these issues with an understanding of how their decisions will impact hungry and poor people.