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House subcommittee approves ag spending bill

Democrats oppose changes to school lunch programs, summer eating programs and lower CFTC budget.

In what was characterized 90% good and 10% hard to swallow by Democrats, Tuesday morning by a voice vote the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture approved a spending bill providing $20.9 billion in discretionary funding.

Sam Farr, the subcommittee ranking member from California, made the 90-10 reference, but also noted there was great cooperative work between he and subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt’s (R., Ala.)  staff in accomplishing the spending measure.

The major contentious points discussed during the mark up Tuesday morning including the ability to allow school districts who’ve struggled with meeting the new school lunch standards to receive waivers. Farr argued that it was the “wrong move” to allow school districts to opt out of the program meant to encourage the eating of healthier foods and keep the money instead of serving fresh fruit and vegetables.

“We don’t allow students to opt out of math or science, so why are we allowing this,” Farr said, adding that changing the American diet is so fundamental to bring down health costs and essential to help start growing healthier people.

Aderholt said he continues to hear from lunch ladies, not industry, regarding the need to provide the flexibility.

Democrats said the USDA has already been supportive of providing schools flexibility. (See related story regarding the latest announcement from USDA on scaling back requirements of whole-grain needs.)  

Farr also had concerns with the proposed budget which provides the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with $2 million below what the President requested this year, and 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, not the coach.

The budget includes $218 million for the CFTC, an increase of approximately $3 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $62 million below the President’s budget request. The increase is targeted to necessary information technology improvements, the committee said.

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

DeLauro also made objections to the bill which allows for the implementation of the USDA’s proposed poultry modernization act, saying the bill “assumes savings of a program that’s unproven.”

The bill totals $20.9 billion in discretionary funding, which is equal to the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. Including both discretionary and mandatory funding for various nutrition programs, the overall bill totals $142.5 billion.

The legislation focuses investments in programs that support U.S. agriculture, boost rural communities, maintain food and drug safety, and provide nutrition for children, families, and seniors. In total, the bill provides $142.5 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding – $1.5 billion below the President’s request and $3 billion below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. Discretionary funding alone in the bill is $20.9 billion, the same as the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.

The bill provides $2.65 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This is approximately equal to the fiscal year 2014 enacted funding level. This funding will support research to help mitigate and stop devastating crop diseases, and improve food safety and water quality. The funding will also support responsible investments in the nation’s land-grant colleges and universities.

The legislation includes $870.7 million – $45.8 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This funding will provide support for 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 an epidemic porcine virus.

The bill provides $869 million – $43 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level – to help farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. This includes $25 million – an increase of $13 million – in infrastructure rehabilitation funding to help small communities meet current safety standards for watershed projects.

View the bill summary or read the full bill.

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