House Appropriations approves bill for 2018 Department of Agriculture
The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill for the Agriculture Department and related agencies on a voice vote on July 12.
The vote followed lengthy debates about non-core functions of the bill.
The bill totals $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million lower than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $4.64 billion above the president’s budget request. The overall total for both discretionary and mandatory programs is $144.9 billion.
It is unclear whether the bill will be considered as a stand-alone measure on the House floor or whether it will be incorporated into an omnibus or one of several “minibuses” of combined appropriations bills later this year. The House Republicans have not completed their budget process, and the Appropriations Committee and subcommittees have moved ahead with allocations and action.
Democrats on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee praised the bill at the beginning of the full committee markup, a sign House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., included many of their requests.
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said he was pleased the committee rejected President Donald Trump’s “draconian” cuts. Bishop said he was pleased the bill includes $25 million for construction of school kitchens and the bill provides funding for the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole international school feeding programs, even at reduced levels.
Trump’s proposals to eliminate rural housing, business development and water and wastewater programs “would have proved disastrous,” Bishop said.
But House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said all the federal agencies are being shortchanged and caps should be increased for defense and non-defense spending.
Former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., thanked Aderholt and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., for including more money for the Food and Drug Administration to fight opioid abuse.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., thanked Aderholt for a provision that will require Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to report to the committee on measures the Food Safety and Inspection Service will take prior to finalizing a rule allowing poultry raised and slaughtered in China to enter the U.S. and for a provision that directs USDA to conduct a full review of Brazil’s food safety equivalency determination.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, thanked Aderholt for a provision directing the Economic Research Service to conduct a study on the quantity and types of produce wasted on farms, barriers to recovering that produce and new market opportunities to increase recovery and farmers’ income.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., thanked Aderholt for a provision that directs USDA to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department detailing responsibility on rural broadband issues.
But the committee also spent most of two and a half hours debating a series of amendments.
The committee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., that enables legal migrant farm workers to utilize farm labor housing built for domestic workers if there are vacancies. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
The committee also adopted Aderholt’s manager’s amendment and an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., to require robust cost-benefit analysis by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and provide clarification regarding inter-affiliate swap transactions. Each of those amendments was adopted on a voice vote.
But the committee rejected by voice vote an amendment Bishop offered to take out a provision giving the CFTC chairman the authority to alter pay and benefits if furloughs would result from a collective bargaining agreement.
The committee also rejected by a recorded vote of 30-22 an amendment offered by Lowey to allow the Food and Drug Administration to analyze and regulate tobacco vaping products more rigorously.
The committee rejected by a vote of 27-25 an amendment offered by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., to stop USDA from inspecting horses for horse meat production.
The debate on the horse inspection bill was particularly emotional, as Roybal-Allard said horses are particularly unsuited for slaughter due to their long necks and old horses can be “adopted by loving homes.” Government policy should include birth control and adoption, she said.
Republicans argued the stoppage of horse inspection has led U.S. ranchers to send horses to Canada and Mexico, where the U.S. government does not control the standards in slaughter houses.
Bishop said even if the horses are slaughtered in Mexico and Canada, the U.S policy ought to be “if they are going to be slaughtered: not in our house, not in our country.”
Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., offered but withdrew an amendment to limit non-recourse loans for sugar or sugar beets to $40 million in any crop year.
Dent said the sugar program and the recent agreement with Mexico to limit sugar imports are hurting confectionary jobs due to higher sugar prices.
Looking at Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, whose state is a major beet sugar producer, Dent said, because Simpson was smiling, “No candy for you.”
Bishop pointed out that Dent’s district includes the Hershey candy company.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who comes from another major beet sugar producing state, said, “Dent is a sweet guy, but this amendment leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”
Aderholt noted the proper place for consideration of his amendment would be the farm bill debate.
Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, lamented cuts to the Rural Energy for America program and other renewable energy programs in a colloquy with Aderholt, who said that despite those cuts in this year’s bill, he wants to avoid cuts to the farm bill baseline. ❖