House Speaker Mike Johnson says he won’t rip up the top-line spending deal he struck with Senate Democrats, despite pressure from hardline conservatives to scrap the plan for deeper cuts. But USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack still has concerns.
Johnson says weeks of negotiations with top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer produced billions in hard-won cuts to the IRS and a claw-back of COVID funds in a bid to avert two shutdown deadlines–the first next Friday, would affect USDA.
GOP hardliners demanded bigger cuts and border policy changes, but Johnson said he’ll stay the course to let appropriators finish spending bills. Though, that may take another funding extension or continuing resolution.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack argued on a zoom press call against a long CR and for full funding of the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC nutrition program. Vilsack says, “So, if Congress were to pass a continuing resolution and not a full-year appropriation, we would be confronted with major shortages at the end of the fiscal year. If Congress were to fund the program at the current lower continuing resolution level for the remaining months of the fiscal year, it would result in a billion-dollar shortfall.”
Vilsack is lobbying lawmakers for $1.4 billion to meet increased WIC demand, and if funds run out early due to faster spending. Vilsack says, “It would be the equivalent of one-and-a-half months of benefits for all program beneficiaries. In other words, we would run out of money a month-and-a-half before the end of the fiscal year. To put it in a slightly different way, the one-billion-dollar shortfall equals the cost of providing six months of benefits to all pregnant women and infants participating in WIC.”
Vilsack says many states would have to consider implementing waiting lists for applicants to reduce costs. But the House and Senate must still reach agreement on full-year spending bills, a challenge given House hardliners haven’t given up their fight for bigger cuts and conservative policy riders.