House approves spending bill to avert shutdown
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 - The House tonight averted a government shutdown by narrowly passing a sweeping government-wide spending bill over a revolt by Democrats and conservative Republicans.
The bill, which passed 219-206 with just 2 ½ hours to spare before the expiration of a stopgap spending measure, includes a number of provisions important to farmers and also relief for schools from the Obama administration's new whole-grain requirements for school meals.
The Senate has until next Wednesday to vote on the omnibus, under a continuing resolution approved by the House to keep the government running.
The bill, H.R. 83, cleared a key procedural hurdle this afternoon, 214-212, when two Republicans, including farmer Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, switched votes at the last minute. However, GOP leaders had to postpone the final vote until 9 p.m. while they and President Obama worked to secure the necessary support over the objections of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Shortly before the final vote, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sam Farr, D-Calif., appealed to fellow Democrats to support the measure. He called the bill “very progressive” and said it “shows that when you do reach compromise.”
The $1.1 trillion bill would increase spending for food safety, food aid and combatting diseases such as citrus greening and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus while cutting some conservation and energy programs.
- One provision would allow schools to substitute alternatives to whole-grain if the latter are too expensive or unappealing to students.
- The Department of Agriculture would have to allow WIC recipients to use the benefits to buy white potatoes. USDA earlier this year had dropped the product from the list of approved WIC foods.
- USDA would be forced to repeal regulations that were intended to protect livestock and poultry growers in their contractual arrangements with processors.
- The bill also includes a provision barring the Department of Interior from protecting species of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and would force the administration to withdraw an interpretive rule that defines agricultural exemptions to Clean Water Act permitting requirements.
Democratic opposition to the bill centered in part on a provision billed by Republicans as a benefit to farmers. The provision, which is based on a bill that has already passed the House, would relax restrictions that forced banks to spin off derivatives to a non-bank affiliate. According to a House Appropriations Committee press release, the so-called “push-out” provision would “protect farmers and other commodity producers from having to put down excessive collateral to get a loan, expand their businesses, and hedge production."
No farm groups, however, have lobbied for the measure, said Liz Friedlander, a spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee's Democrats. A lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, for example, said that organization had not contacted lawmakers about the issue.