Senate Democrats in charge of the budget process won Round One over their GOP counterparts last week in the battle over how to implement sequestration’s spending “cuts,” offering up the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an illustration of just how severely a tiny reduction in Federal spending is supposed to harm real Americans.
Over the vocal objection of Republican members of the Senate Budget Committee, Democrats folded into their budget plan an ongoing agreement with Mexico to fund a USDA-led campaign to raise awareness among legal, non-citizen immigrants over how to access food stamps once they’ve entered the United States.
But while the George W. Bush-era food stamp promotion made it into the Senate budget proposal, threatened cutbacks on USDA meat inspectors’ man-hours stayed on the chopping block.
While that kind of prioritizing may seem absurd, the real absurdity of the whole sequestration flap is the extent to which the spending cuts — wherever they’re made — are anything but dire.
Reuters reported last week the USDA should have no trouble ensuring that all beef and poultry in the U.S. will continue to undergo inspection, with furloughs likely beginning in July and consisting of 11 non-consecutive furlough days on which all U.S. meat inspectors stay home.
Earlier reports that sequestration threatened to hobble poultry and livestock processors and cause meat shortages across the country appear either to have been exaggerated or simply inaccurate.
While that kind of downtime is no longer expected to make much of a ruckus in the marketplace, Republican critics believe the furloughs still look far too punitive toward more than 9,000 food safety employees to reflect what’s supposed to be a mere 5 percent cut in spending across Federal agencies.
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) criticized U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week for using furloughs as a first, instead of last, cost-saving resort.
“I do not agree with the position that the secretary has staked out on this issue while traveling around the country with his sky-is-falling mantra,” he said.
Aderholt also pointed out the Food Safety and Inspection Service had seen its budget grow by about $75 million a year for the past five years, whereas the projected “cut” in spending this year would amount to only $54.8 million.