Congress fails to avoid government shutdown

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2013 - Congress failed to avoid a federal government shutdown early this morning largely because of the continuing dispute between Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The House was expected to approve legislation, around 3 a.m., seeking a conference with the Senate to resolve their differences over (H.J.Res.59), which would keep government operations, including USDA and FDA, funded until Nov. 15.

The effects of a shutdown on USDA employees could be far-reaching. The department posted a detailed agency-by-agency instruction list for employees who may be furloughed.

Together we can feed the Bees"

While a shutdown would not directly affect the core mission of USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) as inspectors would remain on the job, the workload within other FSIS support functions, such as administrative appeals and labeling, could be impacted. Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program enrollment would stop. Funding would likely halt soon for export promotions, including the Foreign Agricultural Service's Foreign Market Development Program and the Market Access Program.

More details about possible shutdown effects on the department may emerge today when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks before the United Fresh conference.

The government shutdown is coupled with the expiration today of the extension of the farm bill. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., took to the Senate floor last night to discuss the situation, saying, “We essentially begin to operate on fumes.”

“It is incredibly important that we use this time immediately to negotiate a final farm bill that will not only reduce the deficit…but one that can get a strong bipartisan vote,” Stabenow said.

On the Senate floor, Monday began with the chamber voting 54-46, along party lines, to strip out a Republican-proposed one-year delay of Obamacare, and to keep the date of the end of the CR at Nov. 15. The House has been pressing for a Dec. 15 expiration.

The House then voted 225-204 to reject the Senate version and send it back to that chamber with the one-year Obamacare delay. Six Republicans joined 198 Democrats to support the “clean” Senate bill.

The Senate then again voted down the House bill on a 54-46 vote, sending it back to House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has continued to refuse to budge on any changes to Obamacare.

“Once again, we will not relitigate the health care debate or negotiate at the point of a gun,” Reid said. “The House once again has attached ridiculous policy riders that are dead on arrival over here.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Senate Democrats blocked a House-passed bill that would “protect Americans from the consequences of Obamacare.” “Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they'd rather shut down the federal government than accept even the most reasonable changes to Obamacare,” McConnell said.

House Agriculture Committee member Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., voted in favor of delaying Obamacare while keeping the government funded.

“With our latest funding proposal, House Republicans are calling on the Senate to keep the federal government funded while providing fairness to all Americans who are being forced to comply with Obamacare's onerous mandates,” Hartzler said. “It is clear that Obamacare is not ready for implementation - yet the Obama administration and its allies in the Senate insist on moving forward with provisions that have already been determined to be unworkable.”

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