The Senate passed its version of a $2.2 trillion spending blueprint by a vote of 56 to 44, retaining a provision that would halve President Bush's tax cut proposal from $726 billion to $356 billion over 10 years if it were passed into law.

The FY 2004 Budget Resolution now goes to a House-Senate conference committee where it must be resolved with a House measure that includes a 1 percent across-the-board spending cut in all budget categories save defense and social security.

The non-binding resolution sets forth the Congressional budget for the U.S. government for fiscal year 2004, and includes budgetary goals for fiscal years 2003, and 2005-2013.

Also included in the Senate budget resolution is a payment limitations amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. He says the $1.4 billion savings from his amendment will be used to fund the Conservation Security Program, in order to pick up votes. Grassley's plan apparently worked, because the measure passed the Senate Budget Committee by a 14-9 vote.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., reportedly received a promise from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., that Grassley's provision in the Budget Resolution must be referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee Cochran chairs before any action could be taken.

“With this amendment, he's not only suggesting re-opening the farm bill, but he's not really accruing any savings,” said one Washington observer. “He's just moving money from one agriculture program to another, which is not technically the Budget Committee's job.”

The USA Rice Federation reported in its newsletter that Sen. Cochran has secured the commitment from Nickles.

Also included in the Senate Budget Resolution is an amendment calling for the end of the so-called “death tax.” Again, however, it has to go before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee before ever becoming law, because neither the Senate nor the House can pass authorizing legislation in a budget bill.

As one Beltwide insider describes it, “The budget resolution simply sets up a framework for how much money should be spent each year by the government. It does not appropriate funding. Instead, it is a set of challenges for Congressional appropriators and authorizers.”

Just because a measure is included in the Senate budget resolution does not necessarily mean it will ever see the light of day. The truth is there's a lot left to do. At least two big fights remain — authorizing and appropriating — before any of the recommended changes can be made.

And while Senate and House committee members generally follow the recommendations made by the Budget Committee, they decide how and when any changes in funding will be made. For example, before a conservation program's funding level can be changed, or payment limitations can be authorized, the respective Agriculture Committees must sign-off on those line item changes.

In addition, the non-binding budget resolution can not cut entitlements, such as farm program payments or welfare payments. It can, however, cut discretionary accounts, such as agricultural research or boll weevil eradication funding.

Grassley, however, has introduced separate legislation that would reduce payment limits from the current farm bill's $360,000 per year to $275,000 per year per person. The bill, S-667, would also eliminate the use of generic commodity certificates.

While the House version of the budget called for 1 percent across-the-board cuts, the Senate budget resolution “cherry picks” aiming for 2 to 3 percent worth of cuts to agriculture funding, according to Washington, D.C., sources.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com