With the weekend approaching, a government shutdown looms as a budget agreement eludes Congress. On Thursday morning both Democrats and Republicans claimed progress in budget negotiations following all-night sessions. However, key players were unwilling to say a shutdown had been averted.

With the country facing massive deficit spending, the budget debate — raging for months and having required a series of continuing resolutions to fund government programs — received an extra dose of adrenalin with the early-April release of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget. Ryan, a Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee, was quickly criticized by agriculture groups for his proposed cuts to farm programs.

“The resolution proposes $175 billion in cuts over 10 years — a reduction of more than 20 percent to the budget baseline for agriculture and nutrition programs,” said the USA Rice Federation in a statement. “These proposed cuts would be in addition to the $15 billion in cuts agriculture has already sustained over the past six years, including $6 billion in 2010 as a result of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) for crop insurance negotiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Further “Ryan’s proposal would cut $30 billion from commodity, crop insurance and trade promotion programs; $18 billion from conservation programs; and $100 billion from the food and nutrition programs.”

Agriculture “is being asked to shoulder a hugely disproportionate share of deficit reduction relative to our impact on the federal budget,” said Jackie Loewer, Louisiana rice producer and USA Rice Federation chairman. “We have already sustained significant budget cuts, and contributed $4 billion to deficit reduction in the SRA negotiations, yet we are being subjected to proposed cuts that would make crafting the next farm bill all but impossible.”

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president, said Ryan would be well-served to consider the sensible recommendations made by our farmer and rancher members instead of proposing short-sighted cuts in the 2012 federal budget that will do irreparable harm to American agriculture.

“If there’s any sure thing in agriculture, it is that high prices are always followed by low prices. Too many times, policymakers have declared a new era in farm commodity prices only to watch prices plummet soon after. If we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it, just as Chairman Ryan’s proposal will do.”

Critics of Ryan’s plan also include the 1.6 million members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. An AFSCME statement claims adoption of Ryan’s budget would mean Medicaid cuts of “asmuch as $1 trillion. … Americans do not want to see vital programs destroyed while corporations and the wealthy escape paying their fair share. We will do what is necessary to oppose this plan and the politicians who support it.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Farm Press spoke with D.C.-based Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), about the budget and what it means for the next farm bill. Among his comments: