House appropriators approve FY22 ag bill after border, line speed, China debates

The House Appropriations Committee today, July 1, approved the fiscal year 2022 agriculture appropriations bill, but only after passing amendments limiting poultry line slaughter speeds and forbidding the ownership of farmland by the Chinese government and its subsidiaries.

The committee did not make any changes to the programs in the bill approved by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee last week.

The final bill provides $26.6 billion for discretionary programs, but the 302(b) allocation for programs under the ag subcommittee’s jurisdiction was lower for mandatory spending than what the subcommittee passed due to differences over spending on nutrition programs.

The 302(b) report says the total budget authority for the bill – mandatory and discretionary – is $176.821 billion, while the total approved by the subcommittee was $196.7 billion.

A House Appropriations Committee spokesman explained, “Our 302(b) report provides the allocation of the ‘current law mandatory budget authority and outlays’ as estimated by CBO [the Congressional Budget Office] and adopted by the House Budget Committee.”

“For appropriated mandatories, congressional scorekeeping dictates that the amounts for mandatory programs are scored at levels estimated for those programs under current law, unless there is a substantive change to the programs,” the spokesman said. “The rationale is that those program (in particular SNAP and Child Nutrition) are driven by programmatic need and function more as entitlements, or formula-based programs, than discretionary programs — therefore, the appropriations in our bills are best understood to be cash for ‘liquidating’ of ‘fulfilling’ an already-existing obligation/requirement of the government to provide a certain service.

“The ag subcommittee has provided more to fulfill those existing programmatic requirements than CBO estimated would be needed this year. The subcommittee appropriated:

▪ $27B for Child Nutrition Programs, whereas CBO only estimated $21B would be required.

▪ $106B for SNAP, whereas CBO only estimated $103B would be needed.”

The subcommittee also provided more amounts in case even this was not sufficient, to make sure that as much as is needed for nutrition programs in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2022, a decision that the Republicans on the full committee questioned today.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., offered an amendment to stop increases in the speed of the lines by which birds whiz by in 16 poultry plants. Lee said it would be dangerous to speed up lines while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Andy Harris, R-Md., said the amendment would damage the agricultural economy, but it passed by voice vote.

After Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., introduced an amendment to make it illegal for the Chinese government and its subsidiaries to own farmland in the United States and to make the 192 million acres that the Chinese currently own ineligible for farm programs, there was a lengthy debate.

Newhouse argued that China has a policy focused on foreign production as part of its Belt and Road Initiative and therefore is a threat to the United States. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said he supports “the concept of the amendment,” but understands there would be “sensitivities” about Newhouse’s proposal. Bishop suggested that the Agriculture Department needs to review the situation and discuss the consequences with the committee. Noting that the bill has to go through the House Rules Committee and to the House floor, Bishop said the committee needs to “sit down and work through” the proposal.

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., vigorously opposed the amendment, saying that singling out China would lead to violence against Asian-Americans.

Rep. Jaime Herrera-Butler, R-Wash., said she found Meng’s statements “almost offensive” because they indicated Americans could not distinguish between the Chinese Communist Party and Asian-Americans.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said the Communist Party of China “needs to be singled out” and that Meng was wrong to say that “our farmland could be owned by an enemy of the United States and we can’t talk about it.”

Meng responded that she should not be lectured and that the discussion should include all U.S. adversaries.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said she thought the committee was engaging in “a healthy debate” and that she appreciated both Newhouse’s and Meng’s points, but that the committee should consider foreign land ownership in general.

After the committee returned from a recess for floor votes, Newhouse said he and Meng at the suggestion of House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., had had “a great conversation.” His amendment, Newhouse said, was “not about calling attention in any negative way” to any group in the United States, but “about our country’s national security.” Newhouse said he would continue to work with DeLauro and Bishop in “perfecting it along the way” and urged a yes vote.

The committee voted unanimously by voice to approve the China amendment and also by voice to approve the overall bill.

Earlier, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., offered an amendment to stop the Agriculture Department from sending employees to the border with Mexico on temporary duty to help with unaccompanied minors unless a presidential emergency is declared. Calvert said that if the situation at the border is not a crisis, then the USDA employees are not needed there. Fortenberry, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member, noted that most of the USDA employees going to the border are from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. NRCS employees have expertise in soil and water but not in handling unaccompanied children, Fortenberry noted.

Calvert’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 25 to 33.

Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., offered an amendment to stop the Agriculture Department from establishing a Civilian Climate Corps, but Bishop, the Agriculture subcommittee chairman, opposed it and it was defeated by a voice vote.


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