REPUBLICAN leadership in the House announced that it would delay — initially until the week of June 16 and now indefinitely — any action on the agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 4800). The President has said he would veto the bill as it's currently written.
Debate began last Wednesday on 18 amendments, but none of the major contentious issues — such as school nutrition program waiver changes, poultry inspection or crop insurance modifications — were tackled in the open amendment process that was approved.
Notably, coming into the debate and not part of the amendment process, legislators inserted report language that directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to implement or enforce the mandatory country-of-origin labeling final rule should the World Trade Organization issue a ruling against the U.S.
Reps. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) and Jim Costa (D., Cal.) both voiced support for the language on the floor and received a commitment from agricultural appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) that he would work to protect the domestic livestock industry from retaliatory threats should a WTO ruling come out later this summer against the U.S. labeling rule.
Reps. Mike Thompson (D., Cal.) and Jared Huffman (D., Cal.) received approval by a voice vote for their amendment that would provide USDA's Office of Inspector General with $1 million in additional resources to protect the food supply and help the office conduct more efficient investigations into food recalls, like the beef recall at Rancho Feeding in Petaluma, Cal.
"The Rancho recall clearly demands a serious investigation," Huffman said. "Many of my ranching constituents are facing serious financial losses, and they can't get any information from USDA about what happened. We have more information from CNN than we have gotten from USDA. This is completely unacceptable. The public has a right to know what happened, how the process broke down and who will be held responsible for it. Our amendment ensures the USDA Inspector General's office has the resources needed to swiftly complete the investigation, close the case and ensure we get answers so we can prevent this from happening again."
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R., Cal.) offered an amendment on food aid, which passed on a 223-198 vote. Royce's amendment would provide $10 million for overseas food aid purchases, a concept heavily debated and defeated during the farm bill process.
Many agricultural groups are opposed to using U.S. taxpayer dollars to purchase food grown by subsidized foreign competitors or food for which quality and safety are not guaranteed. Additionally, the 2014 farm bill includes more than $1 billion in foreign food aid by purchasing U.S.-grown food.
The House unanimously passed an amendment introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (D., Colo.) that would provide additional funding for telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas by reducing the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration fund by $3.461 million.
An effort by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) to reduce the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's information technology budget by $17.5 million failed on a vote of 194-227.
Left to debate
DeLauro is expected to introduce an amendment that would prevent the USDA from spending any money to finalize and implement its proposed poultry inspection rule.
The USDA rule, which was first proposed in January 2012 and has been stalled ever since, would remove most federal inspectors from the slaughter line and turn over poultry inspection activities currently performed by federal inspectors to employees hired by the poultry processing plants. The proposal also would allow plants to increase their line speeds to up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute.
Democrats are expected to include an amendment to overturn the inclusion of school lunch program waivers.
In its statement of policy, the Administration said it "strongly opposes language in the bill that would require the (agriculture) secretary to establish a waiver process to eliminate current nutrition requirements for school breakfasts and lunches during the 2014-15 school year for any school or district that demonstrates a net operating loss on school meals for at least six months beginning in July 2013."
Agricultural groups went to work expressing opposition to potential amendments that would undermine components of the recently passed farm bill, specifically amendments tied to crop insurance provisions.
The amendments filed calling for changes include an attempt to reduce funding by 1% for multiple programs such as the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. Fund and the Commodity Credit Corp. Fund; to prohibit certain commodities from receiving payments under Title 1 programs; to reduce funding for the Market Access Program; to place an adjusted gross income limit of $250,000 on recipients of crop insurance subsidies, and to strip funding to protect the confidentiality of identifying information for farmers who receive crop insurance subsidies.