House Ag Approps Subcommittee approves bill along party lines

Leadership at today's House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee markup of a 2024 appropriations bill, seated from left: House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; subcommittee ranking member Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md. Photo by Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report
The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee today approved the fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill for the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and related agencies.
The subcommittee passed the bill on a voice vote, with Republicans quietly approving it and Democrats shouting “No.”
The markup was unusual in that the subcommittee usually reaches agreement in advance of the markup, but this year the Republicans made big cuts to farm and nutrition programs to which the Democrats objected vigorously.
The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the agriculture bill next week.
Before the vote, committee leaders made impassioned statements about the bill.
Leadership at today’s House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee markup of a 2024 appropriations bill, seated from left: House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; subcommittee ranking member Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md. Photo by Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., the subcommittee chairman, said, “As Americans know all too well, our country continues to face record inflation driven by the reckless spending of the Biden administration.”
“We simply cannot continue down this path of providing large sums of money with no accountability. This bill takes the same approach American families take every day — they have to do more with less under the Biden economy.
“American families decide every day where to cut back spending to pay for what’s most important. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made.”
For fiscal year 2024, the subcommittee’s discretionary allocation is $17.2 billion. By redirecting $8.15 billion in unobligated funds from the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, this bill funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission with an effective allocation of $25.3 billion — a decrease of only 2 percent, or $532 million, from fiscal year 2023.”
Harris continued, “This legislation supports critical ag research and plant and animal health programs, invests in rural communities, expands access to broadband, provides nutrition assistance to those in need, and ensures that American consumers have a safe food and drug supply.”
“This legislation rejects the Biden administration’s unrealistic proposed spending levels that are detached from the dire fiscal reality our country faces. It also rejects the administration’s continued push to bloat the federal bureaucracy by halting new hires in the Washington, D.C., office to instead focus on hiring the USDA workforce outside the beltway, in the offices that directly serve and support rural America.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, did not attend the markup, but she said in a statement, “During the last Congress, many agencies and programs received significant increases, which is why I asked this subcommittee to take a hard look at the spending it oversees.”
“I thank Chairman Harris for coming up with ways to gather some of the funds we already have on hand and redirect them toward priorities in this bill,” Granger said.
“Specifically, this bill prioritizes spending on agricultural research, internet coverage for rural areas, and plant and animal health programs.
“This bill also provides a responsible level of funding for the FDA. and ensures that our food, drugs, and medical devices are safe and effective. The FDA has a track record that shows us more funding does not always fix problems. The agency needs strong leadership.”
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., the subcommittee ranking member, responded that in the past on markup days he has followed the Biblical admonition “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” but that this year “it is very difficult, despite my faith, to rejoice in this markup because today this bill turns its back on rural America.”
“It is a retreat from our most vulnerable communities. This bill really makes it more difficult to implement the purpose and to have a level playing field for all Americans,” Bishop said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the ranking member on the full Appropriations Committee, said, “We are at the third subcommittee markup for the 2024 appropriations process under a majority that has not established a discretionary allocation for the committee and has yet to reveal its 12 subcommittee allocations.”
“House Republicans appear to be proceeding because of a promise they made to each other to slash the nondefense programs that families depend on to survive.
“After removing rescissions, the agriculture bill provides a total funding level so insufficient that it was last seen in 2006. It is a sham proposal built on $8 billion in alleged savings that will likely not be available next year.”
Specifically, De Lauro said, “The cuts in the bill are harmful, including slashing the Women, Infants, and Children program by $500 million, cutting the Renewable Energy for America Program by $500 million, gutting investments in rural electric co-ops for clean energy and energy efficiency by $3.25 billion, eliminating loans that serve as a financial lifeline that has already helped more than 20,000 distressed farmers [by] keeping hardworking farmers from going into foreclosure.”
DeLauro added that the cuts in the bill would also take “food out of the mouths of veterans, children, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
DeLauro also said the bill is “full of policy riders that focus more on social policy issues catering to the ideological extreme than helping farmers and Americans everywhere who rely on funding in this bill for the food they eat and the medicines they take.”
Harris also pointed out that the bill limits Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s use of the Commodity Credit Corporation, USDA’s line of credit at the Treasury.
“When Vilsack was secretary during the Obama administration, Congress limited the secretary’s authority, but the discretion to use it was restored when Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s agriculture secretary, said he needed it to make payments to farmers who lost money after Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese products and the Chinese retaliated by limiting U.S. agricultural imports.”
“By removing the ag secretary’s discretionary use of the Commodity Credit Corporation to fund unauthorized non-emergency programs, this legislation saves $1 billion in fiscal year 2024 alone,” Harris said.
“Given that USDA used these discretionary powers to spend $2.5 billion and $6.6 billion the last two fiscal years, respectively, I would submit to my colleagues the real savings to taxpayers of taking these authorities away are even higher.
“Let me be clear — restricting these authorities will have no impact on farm bill and conservation programs, crop insurance, or the secretary’s ability to access the CCC in an animal or plant health emergency. All of those duties and functions will continue under this bill.”
Bishop responded, “Just yesterday, the subcommittee received a letter from Secretary Vilsack announcing his intention to use the CCC authority to provide emergency grain storage in Kentucky and at least nine other states hit by severe weather.”
“His letter cites several of the provisions blocked by the language in the House bill.
“The CCC is a tool to benefit agriculture producers, no matter which party is in the White House. The only folks that suffer when any administration is not allowed to use the CCC at its discretion are our ag producers,” Bishop said.
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