Congress set to move $1 trillion spending bill with USDA increase

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



Congress is poised to approve legislation this week that would fund the federal government, including USDA and FDA, through fiscal 2014.

Both chambers are widely expected to easily pass the $1 trillion omnibus package that would fund 12 departments, with $20.9 billion in discretionary funding going to USDA and FDA for a combined increase of $350 million. Several agencies would receive slight increases or mostly maintain fiscal 2013 levels.

The current continuing resolution keeping the government running is set to expire Wednesday night, but the House approved a three-day extension Tuesday, by voice vote, to keep it operating until the final package can get through Congress. The Senate is expected to act on the extension by Wednesday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee said the legislation would help create and support jobs while providing needed improvements to the nation's infrastructure through investments in water and community facilities programs. The panel noted the bill would fully fund USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and provide an important safety net through nutrition and housing programs and international food assistance.

As well as providing funding for USDA operations, the legislation seeks to stop the Grain Inspection, Stockyards and Packers Administration from finalizing rules on contracts in the livestock and poultry sector. Also, the legislation recommends, but does not require, that USDA delays completing country-of-origin labeling rules until after the World Trade Organization issues a final decision on whether the program violates international commerce rules. Spending highlights include:

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•           The Agricultural Marketing Services would receive $79.9 million; GIPSA, $40.2 million; Natural Resources Conservation Services, $812.9 million; Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $215 million; and the National Commission on Hunger, $1 million.

•           The FDA would receive $2.552 billion, which is $217 million above fiscal 2013. This includes increases of $53 million to continue implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and $19 million for improvements to medical product safety.

•           The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service would receive $1.011 billion to fund all current and future estimated inspection services.

•           The Farm Service Agency would receive $1.5 billion to maintain fiscal 2013 funding levels. The funding would support various farm, conservation, loan and emergency programs for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

•           The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would receive $821.7 million, equal to the fiscal 2013 level. Some $20 million is earmarked to fight citrus greening.

•           Rural development programs would receive $2.4 billion - a $180 million increase.

•           The Water and Waste Disposal Program would receive a loan and grant program level of $1.752 billion for an increase of $248 million.

•           The Community Facilities Program would receive a loan and grant program of $2.288 billion to fund rural community facilities including hospitals, schools and health clinics.

•           The Food for Peace program would receive $1.466 billion in PL480 title II grants, for an increase of $107 million. The bill also would maintain Senate language that aims to provide the administration with additional flexibility to implement development assistance around the world while ensuring U.S. farmers and shippers continue their direct involvement in providing international food assistance.

•           The McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program would be funded at $185 million, $11 million above fiscal 2013.

•           The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would receive $6.716 billion for an increase of $194 million.

•           School cafeterias would receive $25 million for equipment purchases, an increase of $15 million above fiscal 2013.

•           The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would receive mandatory funding of $82.169 billion. The amount would fully fund the food stamp program and reflects the administration's latest estimates.

•           The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.122 million, $105 million above fiscal 2013 levels.

•           The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would receive $1.277 billion for a $74 million increase.

•           The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility would receive $404 million to complete construction in Manhattan, Kan.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said they were happy with the agreement.

“We are pleased to have come to a fair, bipartisan agreement on funding the government for 2014,” they said in a joint statement. “Although our differences were many and our deadline short, we were able to a draft a solid piece of legislation that meets the guidelines of the Ryan-Murray deal, keeps the government open, and eliminates the uncertainty and economic instability of stop-gap governing.”

In addition, the legislation includes a provision to prohibit funding from being used for USDA inspections of U.S. horse slaughter facilities. A similar ban was in place from 2005 to 2011.

Recently, a New Mexico judge extended his injunction blocking Valley Meat Co. from starting horse slaughter operations to allow for testimony in a lawsuit brought by state Attorney General Gary King.

The bill also includes a provision, from Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., which aims to prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from regulating farms with fewer than 10 employees.

“The inclusion of this language makes it very clear that OSHA does not have the authority to harass family farmers,” Johanns said. “This is more than a victory for our ag producers. It is a win for our economy and the law.”

OSHA issued a memo in 2011 claiming the agency could regulate certain types of grain handling activity on small or family-run farms, despite a clear legal prohibition, according to Johanns.

Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also praised the legislation saying, “Congress is taking the right steps toward restoring health and environmental safeguards for the American people, and blocking most House Republican efforts to starve or restrict environmental protections.” However, Slesinger said the bill includes “wrongheaded curbs on climate action, clean energy and other measures.” 

The influential conservative group Heritage Action expressed its opposition to the package Tuesday, largely based on overall increases to discretionary spending. “The omnibus increases spending, in some cases dramatically, beyond most of the House-passed allocations,” the organization said in a statement noting that this would be a key vote for its legislative scorecard.

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