January 9, 2015
Reductions to Mandatory Agricultural Conservation Programs
in Appropriations Law
Federal spending for agricultural conservation programs
(which assist agricultural producers with correcting and
preventing natural resource concerns) generally takes two
forms: (1) discretionary spending provided through annual
appropriations acts, and (2) mandatory spending authorized
and paid for in multiyear legislation (e.g., farm bills).
Historically, mandatory agricultural funding was reserved
for the farm commodity programs, but it has expanded in
recent years to include conservation, rural development,
research, and bioenergy programs. This expansion has
generated both concern and support. Some consider the
expansion to be beyond the scope of the authorizing
committee’s jurisdiction, while others prefer the stability of
mandatory funding to that of the appropriations process.
Mandatory Conservation Spending
The Origin of CHIMPS
The rise in the number of agricultural programs with
mandatory budget authority from the authorizing
committees has not gone unnoticed or untouched by
appropriators. In recent years, appropriations bills have
reduced some mandatory program spending below
authorized levels. These reductions, estimated by the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO), are commonly
referred to as “changes in mandatory program spending”
(CHIMPS). CHIMPS can offset discretionary spending that
otherwise would be above discretionary budget caps.
CHIMPS = Changes In Mandatory Program Spending
Large backlogs of interested and eligible producers led to
new and expanded farm bill conservation programs with
mandatory spending authority beginning in the mid-1980s.
Currently, the level of mandatory spending for conservation
is roughly five times that of discretionary conservation
spending (Figure 1).
Similarly, authorizing committees also have reduced
mandatory spending levels from their initially enacted
levels. Authorizers may make such reductions either to
offset spending increases for other mandatory programs
within their jurisdiction or to get credit for budget
reconciliation requirements. Authorizing committee
CHIMPS are not discussed in this document.
Figure 1. Spending on USDA Conservation Programs
Mandatory conservation spending generally has increased
annually. Nonetheless, the full potential of authorized
mandatory conservation spending has not been realized
because many conservation programs have been reduced or
capped through annual appropriations acts since FY2003.
At the Administration’s Request
Many conservation program CHIMPS are at the request of
the Administration. Both the Bush and Obama
Administrations have requested reductions in recent years
(Figure 2). The mix of programs and amount of reduction
varies from year to year.
Through Appropriations Law
Source: CRS, updated from George A Pavelis, Douglas Helms, and
Sam Stalcup, “Soil and Water Conservation Expenditures by USDA
Agencies, 1935-2010,” USDA, Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS), Historical Insights Number 10, Washington, DC, May
2011. Not adjusted for inflation.
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 farm bill, P.L. 113-79)
reauthorized mandatory spending for a number of
agricultural conservation programs through FY2018.
When appropriators limit mandatory spending, they usually
do not change the text of the authorizing law. Their action
has the same effect as changing the law, but only for the
one year to which the appropriation applies. Appropriators
put limits on mandatory programs by using language such
as: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made
available by this or any other Act shall be used to pay the
salaries and expenses of personnel to carry out section [ ... ]
of Public Law [ ... ] in excess of $[ ... ].”
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Reductions to Mandatory Agricultural Conservation Programs in Appropriations Law
Figure 2. Mandatory Conservation Program Funding
Budgetary scoring methods have also led to what some
argue as “double counting” for CHIMPS of authorizations
that do not expire after one year (authorizations “to remain
available until expended”). For example, the Dam Rehab
program is currently authorized to receive $153 million to
remain available until expended. CHIMPS only apply for
the current fiscal year and do not typically change or
permanently cancel the statutory funding authority.
Therefore the full amount of funding (minus any
sequestration) is restored the following fiscal year and can
be reduced again. Thus, successive years’ CHIMPS can be
greater than the original authorization.
Figure 3. CHIMPS to Conservation Programs in
Notes: Reductions from authorized levels include CHIMPS and
sequestration. FY2014 includes CHIMPS prior to enactment of the
2014 farm bill. FY2015 includes sequestration estimates.
Budget Sequestration—A Further Reduction
Budget sequestration continues to impact a number of
mandatory programs and reduces the authorized level
available to programs. During the 2014 farm bill debate,
sequestration reduced the overall baseline prior to the bill’s
enactment. Sequestration combined with the farm bill’s
other reductions resulted in a net reduction of over $6
billion over 10 years for mandatory conservation programs.
The 2013 budget agreement (P.L. 113-67) stopped
sequestration for discretionary accounts, but continues to
impact mandatory programs. The enacted FY2015
appropriation includes sequestration estimates, making the
CHIMPS to conservation seem less than previous years
(Figure 3). However, the overall impact to conservation
programs (CHIMPS + sequestration) is similar to previous
years––a reduction from the authorized level.
Initially, CHIMPS in appropriations law were fiercely
opposed by conservation advocates. And while
conservation programs continue to have broad support
against CHIMPS, the outcry has lessened slightly to include
a certain level of acceptance. Some believe that the
agriculture committees might anticipate some level of
CHIMPS when they establish spending levels in an
omnibus farm bill.
Additionally, CHIMPS are not uniform among programs.
Some programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program
(CRP), have not been reduced by appropriators in recent
years, while others, such as the Environmental Quality
Incentives Program (EQIP), have been repeatedly reduced
below authorized levels (reductions total $2.8 billion from
FY2004 through FY2015, Figure 3). Other programs, such
as the Watershed Rehabilitation Program (Dam Rehab), are
rarely allowed to spend their mandatory authority.
Notes: Does not include sequestration. FY2008 and FY2014 include
CHIMPS prior to enactment of the 2008 and 2014 farm bills. CSP =
Conservation Stewardship Program, WRP = Wetlands Reserve
Program (now authorized as the Agricultural Conservation Easement
Program, or ACEP).
Finally, conservation advocates contend that these CHIMPS
are significant changes from the intent of the authorizing
law (farm bill), undercutting many of the programs that
generated political support for the farm bill's initial passage.
They also point out that savings generated from
conservation CHIMPS are not necessarily used for other
conservation or environmental activities. Those interested
in reducing agricultural expenditures counter that even with
these reductions, overall funding for conservation has not
been reduced since it is still increasing over time, albeit not
as much as authorized.
For more analysis, see CRS Report R43669, Agriculture
and Related Agencies: FY2015 Appropriations; and CRS
Report R41245, Reductions in Mandatory Agriculture
Megan Stubbs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-8707
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