Appropriators rebuke Perdue on swine slaughter, Forest Service Jobs Corps
The House Appropriations Committee passed a fiscal year 2020 Agriculture appropriations bill with amendments that rebuke Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue over his plans to remove limitations on line speeds for swine slaughter inspections and turn the Forest Service Jobs Corp program over to the Labor Department.
The bill also contains provisions passed by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that would stop the Trump administration from placing the Economic Research Service under USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist and and prevent it from moving most of the employees of the ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington metropolitan area.
The legislation funds agencies and programs within USDA, the Farm Credit Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration.
Total discretionary funding in the legislation is $24.3 billion — $1 billion above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
In total, the bill allows for $155.3 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding — $3.2 billion above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
Democrats noted that the bill rejects many Trump administration budget proposals to reduce spending on various USDA programs.
The committee passed the bill on a roll call vote of 29 to 21.
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., told reporters afterward that he expects the bill to come to the House floor as part of a “minibus” of bills, since the House leadership has already announced that it intends to bring a minibus of five bills — Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, Energy and Water, State-Foreign Operations and the Legislative Branch — to the floor next week.
Bishop said he did not know when a second minibus containing the Agriculture bill would be presented to the full House.
The vote on the bill occurred after the committee failed to adopt an amendment offered by Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., the subcommittee chairman in the last Congress, to raise the age for sale or distribution of a tobacco product to the age of 21.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., offered a second degree amendment to exempt the military from the age restriction, but it also failed. The Harris amendment failed on a voice vote and the underlying Aderholt amendment failed on a roll call vote of 23 to 27.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said she opposed both the Aderholt and Harris amendments because other members of Congress have offered bills to raise the age limit on tobacco purchases that she considers more effective.
Amidst concern that high school students are buying vaping products, the vaping industry supports raising the age limit for purchases, but critics have said that simply raising the age limit is not enough.
The committee also adopted by voice vote an Aderholt amendment to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from undertaking any drug or biological product research “in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.”
That provision was in the last Agriculture-FDA appropriations bill, but the subcommittee did not include it this year.
Lowey said she did not favor it because she believes research on gene editing could lead to positive results. Bishop and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said they recognize that the research could save or extend lives but that they favored the amendment at the present time. Republicans had said that leaving out the amendment could make it difficult for them to support the bill.
The swine slaughter amendment was sponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Tom Price, D-N.C. It would require USDA’s Office of the Inspector General to submit its findings on the underlying data the USDA used to develop and design its proposed rule to “modernize” swine slaughter inspection and require USDA to address and resolves any issues identified by the IG before implementing the proposed rule.
“The proposed rule is an attempt to give multinational meat processors more authority and control over the health and safety conditions in their own plants, and it transfers vital inspection duties currently performed by USDA inspectors, to company employees —‘company-based inspection,’” DeLauro said during the markup session. “If this rule is finalized, I believe it will endanger food safety inspections, workers, consumers and animal welfare,” she added.
Fortenberry noted that the program is voluntary and said he was opposed. But the amendment passed on a voice vote. Republicans appeared to vote against it, but they did not ask for a roll call vote.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., introduced the amendment to stop the Trump administration from closing U.S. Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers that enroll more than 3,000 students a year in rural America and employ 1,100 people. USDA said it would turn the program over to the Labor Department, which would use private contractors.
“The drawdown of the program, starting in September, will result in the largest layoffs of civil servants since the military’s base realignment and closures of 2010 and 2011, federal personnel experts said,” according to a story in The Washington Post last week.
Noting that two of the centers are in his district, Newhouse said the Trump administration decision appeared to have been made “without rhyme or reason.”
Bishop noted that he chairs the Congressional Job Corps Caucus and said he would have introduced the amendment if Newhouse had not.
The amendment passed on what appeared to be a unanimous voice vote and Newhouse said he is working with a bipartisan coalition in the House and the Senate to stop the closure of the centers.
The full committee acted on the bill with no discussion of the provisions in the subcommittee mark to stop the Trump administration from shifting authority for the USDA’s Economic Research Service from the Research, Education and Economics mission area to the Office of the Chief Economist, which is under the secretary’s office, and from moving most of the employees of the ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington area.
Perdue had said that USDA would announce the location to which staff positions would be moved by the end of May. But USDA has not made any announcement, and Bishop told The Hagstrom Report today that he hopes Perdue has gotten the committee’s message that members do not want it moved.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said she was “pleased” the bill contains $5 million to establish an office of urban agriculture, which she said could serve “as a driver for growth and development in local sustainable food production.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in a news release, “As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, I’m proud that we’ve rejected the Trump administration’s proposals to drastically cut funding for such important agencies and programs.”
“Instead, this bill invests $1 billion more than the FY2019 budget in growing markets such as local and organic agriculture, preserves research staff for the USDA’s science-based programming, helps address climate change, and includes measures to curb food waste,” said Pingree.
“This bill also highlights the ways that agriculture can play a role in mitigating climate change. It not only supports USDA’s Climate Hubs, it also encourages the agency to look at carbon markets in agriculture and provides additional support to farmers dealing with the effects of climate change. These steps are key in order to ensure farmers — who are on the front lines of this crisis—have resources to help curb greenhouse gases.”