SOMEHOW, we're back to "regular" order after Congress approved an omnibus appropriations bill. The whopper of a bill lumps together 12 appropriations bills for various spending categories, including agriculture, energy and water.
This will mark the first time since the fiscal 2012 spending bills that Congress actually passed a spending package.
The legislation sets total discretionary funding for the 2014 fiscal year at $1.012 trillion, which is about $25 billion more than federal discretionary spending last year and $45 billion above the spending levels signed into law as part of the bipartisan Budget Control Act.
As one of the few must-pass bills each year, language often gets included in appropriations bills that allows Congress to state its intent on different matters; this year was no different.
Some notable to agriculture include a provision that again prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration from finalizing regulations related to contracts for livestock and poultry growers. The rider does not include the forced withdrawal of the rules that have already been finalized by USDA, but it does block additional rule-making consistent with past appropriations bill.
The bill would also reinstate a ban on horse slaughter, just when it seemed like it may start up again. The new language contains not only defunding but also a stipulation that funding not be restored until and unless the Food & Drug Administration makes a determination that meat from U.S. horses can be made safe to enter the food supply.
Defunding language was passed with super majorities by both the House and Senate agriculture appropriations committees in 2013, but neither budget reached the floor for a full vote.
The bill also expresses concerns with USDA's country-of-origin labeling regulations and strongly encourages USDA to hold off finalizing those regulations until after the World Trade Organization issues its ruling.
Ashley Lyon McDonald, National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. environmental counsel, said the omnibus spending bill will prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring livestock operations to obtain permits for emissions of greenhouse gases or from requiring the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.
It doesn't, however, address the ban on enforcement of the Spill Prevention Control & Countermeasure rule for farms and a provision that would prohibit EPA from releasing producers' personal information under the Freedom of Information Act.
The omnibus appropriations bill includes report language, submitted by Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.), that would prevent the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) from expanding its regulatory oversight onto farms with fewer than 10 employees. The report language is in response to a 2011 OSHA memo stating that certain traditional farm activities would be under OSHA's regulatory jurisdiction going forward.
Johanns received another win with the inclusion of language requiring EPA to give a full account of its aerial surveillance program of agricultural operations.
The language requires EPA to submit a report to the appropriations committees, within 180 days of enactment, that identifies where the flyovers took place, how much they cost and how many were conducted for the last 10 years.
So, the line has been drawn by Congress on some hot topics, and now it will be time to see if the agencies hold up their end of the bargain.