Appropriators work on ag spending bills

LEGISLATORS began working out discretionary and mandatory funding levels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food & Drug Administration, with subcommittees making their proposals.

In what was characterized as 90% good and 10% hard for Democrats to swallow, the House appropriations subcommittee for agriculture approved a spending bill by a voice vote last Tuesday that provides $20.9 billion in discretionary funding.

Later that day, the Senate appropriations subcommittee approved its version, which provides $20.575 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2015, and the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill on Thursday.

The Senate's proposed discretionary funding is $90 million below the fiscal 2014 enacted level but $228 million above the budget request. The House's proposal is equal to the 2014 enacted level.

Some of the major contentious points discussed during the markups included whether to allow school districts that have struggled with meeting the new school lunch standards to receive waivers and how much flexibility needs to be allowed to help schools manage implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The proposal prevents urban students from being eligible for summer lunch programs and instead allows only students in rural areas to be eligible. "Your geography should not determine if you should eat," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) said.

Rep. Sam Farr (D., Cal.), subcommittee ranking member, was the one who made the 90/10 reference and focused much of his discussion on changes to nutrition funding, but he also noted that there was great cooperative work between he and subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt's (R., Ala.) staff in accomplishing the spending measure.

However, Farr expressed concerns with the proposed budget, which provides the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) with $2 million below what the President requested this year and is even less than last year. He said stripping funds from the agency tasked with policing the markets and preventing another economic crisis punishes the referees instead of the coach.

The House budget includes $218 million for CFTC, an increase of roughly $3 million from the fiscal 2014 enacted level but $62 million below the President's budget request.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said the House version "vastly underfunds" CFTC, which is tasked with making sure the financial markets do not suffer another collapse like they did in 2008.


Bill specifics

DeLauro also objected to the bill allowing for the implementation of USDA's proposed poultry modernization act, saying the bill "assumes savings of a program that's unproven."

The House bill again includes a rider that overturns the farm bill and prohibits USDA from implementing a rule that was designed to provide protection for poultry and livestock farmers under the Packers & Stockyards Act. The House rider forces USDA to rescind a completed rule forcing poultry integrators to give farmers a 90-day notice before they suspend delivery of birds to a farmer. The Senate did not include the rider in its spending proposal.

More than 165 organizations from around the country delivered a letter to House and Senate appropriators in strong opposition to the rider. However, opponents of the rule argue that most poultry companies have been contracting with growers for decades without any problems.

The House bill provides $2.65 billion for agricultural research programs, including USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA). This is approximately equal to the fiscal 2014 enacted funding level.

The Senate's version provides $1.139 billion for ARS and $1.292 billion for NIFA, for a total of $2.431 billion, including $325 million for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative.

The House legislation includes $870.7 million for the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service — $45.8 million above the fiscal 2014 enacted level. This funding will support programs to help control or eradicate plant and animal pests and diseases that can be crippling to U.S. producers and entire agricultural industries and includes increases to fight citrus greening and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

The House subcommittee bill cuts more than 1 million acres from the Conservation Stewardship Program, reducing funding by $109 million. It also cuts more than $200 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $60 million from the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

On top of the conservation cuts, the House bill slashes mandatory funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) by 40% — from $50 million to $30 million. While it dramatically limits mandatory funding for REAP, the bill does provide $3.5 million in discretionary funding for REAP loan guarantees.

Stabenow criticized the House's effort to "gut conservation and energy programs that passed in the farm bill with wide, bipartisan majorities."

Volume:86 Issue:21

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