An agreement to keep the federal government running through the end of the fiscal year has been reached and the furlough of meat inspectors has been avoided.
Sen. Mike Johanns says it wasn’t that hard to find the money needed to keep meat inspectors on the job. He says members of Congress found money within the United States Department of Agriculture budget and made the transfer into the meat inspection program.
“It was very simple and straight-forward,” Johanns tells Nebraska reporters in his weekly conference call.
Johanns says the agreement removes a contentious issue from the national debate.
“It will fund those food safety inspectors through the end of the fiscal year,” according to Johanns. “So, you won’t be having to write any news stories on furloughing food safety inspectors through the end of September.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack threatened to lay off meat inspectors after automatic across-the-board budget cuts, the so-called sequester, went into effect.
Johanns, a former Agriculture Secretary, says Vilsack’s stance puzzled him.
“So, when he said, ‘My hands are tied. I have no choice but to lay off these inspectors.’ It just simply didn’t make sense,” Johanns says. “We have fixed it. Yesterday, I did note that he said he was for that. I appreciate that. Whether he was for it or not, it was going to happen, because nobody believed that you should lay off meat inspectors.”
The possibility of meat inspector furloughs sent shockwaves through the meat industry, which was felt both at the feedlot and on the ranch in Nebraska. One livestock producer claimed he lost tens of thousands of dollars when beef prices plunged after Vilsack suggested furloughs would be necessary to comply with the budget cuts.
Now, attention turns to the coming fiscal year.
Democrats in the United States Senate have submitted their first budget in three years.
Johanns, a Republican, doesn’t think much of it.
“By the looks of it, the Democrats are a little out of practice,” Johanns says. “They seem to think a budget in the midst of an economic slowdown should increase taxes, increase spending and increase our already too large debt.”
The proposed Senate budget would raise $1.5 trillion in taxes, yet would not balance the budget.
Johanns says he favors the budget approved by the Republican-led House that cuts $5 trillion in spending and seeks to balance the budget in 10 years.
AUDIO: Sen. Mike Johanns discusses budget matters. [6:40]