IN classic D.C. dysfunction, Congress crammed final decisions into the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government in the days and hours before heading home, bringing all kinds of surprises and disappointments for the agriculture sector.
As with any "must-pass" legislation, it's guaranteed that there will be plenty of ways for members — or lobbyists — to get their way on their priorities.
Bob McCan, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., said the group was happy to see many of its priorities addressed.
"It is clear that Congress recognizes and agrees that the Administration's regulatory zeal has gone too far, and if left unchecked, it will impede the economic growth of rural America," he said.
However, Traci Bruckner of the Center for Rural Affairs called the spending bill a "catastrophe" for the priorities of rural and small-town America.
"Previous deep cuts to conservation are made even worse, and numerous policy riders attached to the bill are an assault on our soil, our water and on protections for family farmers and ranchers that we have fought for tirelessly over the last decade," Bruckner said.
Here's a quick rundown of some of the surprises under this year's "CRomnibus" tree:
* Labeling. The report language for the U.S. Department of Agriculture contained a provision instructing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to submit a report with his recommendations for any changes in the federal law required to bring the country-of-origin labeling program into compliance with international trade obligations. This report would need to be submitted within 15 days of the World Trade Organization's appeal decision or by May 1, 2015, whichever comes first.
* Secondary beef checkoff. Under the agreement, Vilsack must not implement a "second duplicative beef checkoff program" because "an overwhelming majority of cattle producers do not support paying assessments into two separate beef checkoff programs operating simultaneously."
* Livestock regulations. The end-of-year funding bill creates exemptions for livestock producers from onerous greenhouse gas regulations by prohibiting rules that require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems. Moreover, the agreement blocks the Administration's proposal for new grazing fees on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land.
* Water rule. The CR directs the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its waters of the U.S. interpretative rule, which went into effect immediately once proposed last spring and has raised concerns over the conservation practices EPA has chosen to exempt.
* School lunch standards. The spending bill gives schools more flexibility on whole-grain lunch standards while also ensuring that future sodium standards will not take effect until they are supported by science.
* Sage grouse. The agreement prohibits funding for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List.
* GIPSA. The legislation restricts the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing certain regulations that would allow "harmful government interference in the private market for the livestock and poultry industry," the budget agreement stated. However, some groups say it prevents GIPSA from doing anything to protect farmers' rights and ensure a fair marketplace for livestock and poultry producers.