Once Congress gets past the current budget stalemate and passes legislation to fund the government through the end of September, they will face a decision on raising the debt ceiling. The current debt ceiling will be reached by May 15 according to the Treasury Secretary, but may be able to keep the government running until the beginning of July. And the debate over the budget for fiscal 2012 will also begin with the aim of passing appropriations bills by the end of September.

The current stalemate is penny ante compared to the battle to come: Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, unveiled a long-term spending plan last week that he says would cut spending by $6 trillion over the next decade. The big savings come from reforms to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, but the plan also would reduce spending on farm programs by $30 billion over 10 years. The reductions in farm spending are not spelled out, but the plan suggests that spending on direct payments and on
crop insurance can be reduced. (NOTE: The cuts to agriculture programs would be delayed until Congress drafts a new farm bill in 2012.)

The Obama administration has reached an agreement with the government of Colombia concerning labor rights. Opposition to the free trade agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Colombia because of concerns about labor rights has kept Congress from approving the free trade agreement over the past four years. It appears that the free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia will also be submitted to Congress in the next few weeks for approval. But there is no word yet on the fate of the free trade agreement with Panama. That’s important because some members of Congress have indicated they will oppose FTAs unless all three are submitted at the same time.

Both houses of Congress passed legislation that repeals the 1099 business reporting requirement for small purchases. Under the health care reform passed last year, businesses would have been required to file 1099 tax forms for every vendor that sold them more than $600 in goods each year. About 40 million businesses and non-profit entities would have faced the reporting requirement.

Reminder: The deadline for offering to enroll your land in the CRP is April 15. Contracts covering about 4.4 million acres of land in the Conservation Reserve Program expire this September, and USDA wants to enroll enough acres to keep total enrollment near the 32 million acre cap. Land accepted for enrollment will enter the program this fall, but producers will be allowed to harvest their 2011 crops. If interested, visit your local Farm Service Agency office.

The Senate voted down several amendments that would have blocked or delayed EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The House approved legislation that would block EPA’s “tailoring rule” that regulates emissions from facilities that emit more than 75,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year, a rule that affects about 15,500 facilities. The issues will have to be worked out in conference committee, but the president has indicated that he will veto any bill that limits EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.