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Blog

    Vilsack's Playbook to Avoid Sequester

    04/01/2013

    U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) have successfully passed an amendment to the continuing resolution which effectively transfers $55 million to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).  This increased the total allocated costs for FSIS to $1,056,427,000  up from $1,001,427,000.  In order to get this increase, Agriculture Buildings and Facilities and Rental Payments along with Child Nutrition Programs were cut.  Money was effectively redistributed to the FSIS.

    The campaign to successfully redistribute the funds was championed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  Vilsack began the campaign quite early stating in February “a nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants during a furlough of inspection personnel” could result in “as much as 15 days of lost production, costing over $10 billion in production losses.”   Vilsack began the doom and gloom messaging tactics that has now become common rhetoric when describing the sequester.  The message received an initial, skeptical response from the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the meat inspector labor union.  Trent Berhow, Vice Chair of the union, deduced,”If the federal government truly put the inspectors out of the plant, the industry would sue the hell out of them.”   His fear-mongering tactics began working as the union commenced to back his initiatives.  Even cattlemen and women began supporting legislation to prevent the furlough of FSIS inspectors.  The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George revealed “Had inspection been halted, this would have resulted in a backlog of animals, shortened supply of beef to market, higher prices and harm to the futures market.”   The NCBA did deride Vilsack and his department for forsaking the duty to provide inspectors.

    Vilsack and his fear-mongering message now had both the backing of the beef lobby and meat inspector’s labor union.  Senator Blunt took the message to heart defending the amendment stating, “Without this funding, every meat, poultry and egg processing facility in the country would be forced to shut down for up to two weeks.  That means high food prices and less work for the hardworking Americans who work in these facilities nationwide.”   The amendment passed via voice vote and the entire continuing resolution package passed 73 to 26.

    The passage of this amendment goes completely against what the sequester was aimed at doing, across the board cuts on government programs.  Instead Department Secretaries, lobbyists, and labor unions are able to finagle funds away from certain agencies and put them towards others.  Winners and losers are chosen.  Have the lessons from Solyndra and General Motors not been learned?  Have they taught us nothing?  Government fails when it attempts to pick winners and losers.  Taxpayers are left on the hook, while insiders make deals to help special interests.  In this case, Vilsack is able to increase his and FSIS power, the labor union is able to avoid furloughs, and the beef lobby is able to assuage the fear of government irreparably harming the industry.  The sequester is healthy for the United States Government and more across the board cuts can help begin to reel in the massive $16 trillion debt.