House Ag Committee clears COOL repeal bill

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 - Just two days after the World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld an earlier decision that a U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule is not compliant with international trade obligations, House lawmakers officially began the procedural steps necessary to repeal the law.

In a full meeting of the Agriculture Committee, members reported two bills to the House. One of those bills - H.R. 2393 - is in reaction to the WTO decision and seeks to avoid economic retaliation from Canada and Mexico by simply repealing the offending provisions of the COOL law. Under the bill, which is expected to be discussed on the House floor in early June, the beef, pork, and poultry requirements of the mandatory COOL law originating in the 2002 farm bill would be repealed.

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At today's hearing, Committee chair and Texas Republican Mike Conaway said he isn't willing to risk potential retaliation of any degree.

“Some say we ought to keep waiting until retaliatory measures have commenced before we consider our next step. That is not something I am willing to do,” Conaway said. “We know we face retaliatory sanctions at some amount. Some would estimate that those could be in the billions of dollars. Regardless of the amount, we should not sit back and let American businesses be held hostage to the desires of a small minority who refuse to acknowledge that this battle is lost.”

The bill was reported to the full House by a vote of 38-6, with the backing of all committee Republicans and with a 13-6 margin of support from Democrats. One of the votes against the bill was from the committee's lead Democrat, Minnesota's Collin Peterson, who opposes full repeal and thinks the bill is being rushed.

“I think this is premature, I don't think it's the best way to avoid retaliation, and, quite frankly, I don't think the Senate will be able to pass a repeal,” Peterson said. “I think we need to look at the big picture and work together to come up with a solution that will get us where we want to get and resolve this issue.”

Other Democrats voting against the measure were Tim Walz and Rick Nolan of Minnesota, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, and Ann Kuster of New Hampshire.

Rep. Jim Costa, of California, the lead Democratic cosponsor of the bill, offered the only amendment to the legislation to dub it the “Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015.” It passed with little opposition.

At the hearing, the panel also reported by voice vote H.R. 2394, which would reauthorize the National Forest Foundation through FY 2018. Peterson offered the only amendment to the bill - an amendment he described as technical in nature - and the full measure received no opposition during discussion. In a statement, Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said the Foundation was “an integral component in keeping our national forests . . . viable and thriving for years to come.”

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