House debates agriculture spending bill

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June, 11, 2014 -- The House spent several hours Wednesday debating a $142 billion spending bill for the USDA and FDA for fiscal year 2015, approving a raft of amendments, but adjourned without voting on the measure.

The amendments mostly shifted funding around among different agencies and programs but none addressed the aspects of the bill that have produced the most controversy in recent weeks - the school lunch program and white potatoes.

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The bill produced by Republican lawmakers includes a provision that would allow school districts to seek a one-year waiver from certain federal healthy-food standards. Democrats, with the backing of first lady Michelle Obama, say the measure would be a step backward in the campaign to fight childhood obsesity.

Republicans say some school districts can't afford to comply with the standards, and that many students have rejected the so-called healthier meals. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said the nutrition issue should be dealt with locally on a case by case basis.

“We want children in this country to eat healthier; we all want to fight childhood obesity,” Davis said. “It's not just a problem that Washington can solve, but it's a problem that Washington created that we need to fix.”

Democrats also object to language in the bill that would allow participants in a nutrition program for women and infant children to use vouchers for the purchase of white potatoes, arguing that the vouchers should be used for healthier vegetables.

On Tuesday, the White House issued a strongly worded veto threat, citing the nutrition provisions, among other issues.

“The bill undermines key investments in financial oversight, injects political decision-making into science-based nutrition standards, and includes objectionable language riders.  If the President were presented with H.R. 4800, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill,” noted the statement of administration policy issued by the Office of Management and Budget.

Here are some of the amendments approved Wednesday and their sponsor:

-Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to increase funding for Child Nutrition Programs for use as grants to states in support of the school breakfast program by $8,150,000.

-Mike Thompson, D-Calif., to increase funding for the Office of Inspector General by $1 million and to reduce funding for the Office of the Secretary by a similar amount.

-Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, to increase funding for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service by $2.5 million for use against specialty crop pests and to reduce funding for the Office of the Secretary by a similar amount.

-Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., to reduce funding for the Office of Chief Financial Officer by $220,000 and to increase funding for Office of Inspector General by a similar amount. The amendment blocked a proposal from President Obama to hire more USDA attorneys.

-Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to reduce funding for the Economic Research Service by $3 million and to increase funding for Child Nutrition Programs by a similar amount. The funding will be used to create a pilot program allowing children to use EBT funds during the summer months to make sure meals are still available to children outside of school months.

-Cory Gardner, R-Colo., to reduce funding for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration by $3.4 million and to increase the telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas by a similar amount.

-Ed Royce, R-Calif., to reduce funding for the Agricultural Marketing Service by $15.5 million and to increase funding for the Foreign Agricultural Service by $10 million.

-Jackie Speier, D-Calif., to redirect $1 million within the Food and Nutrition Act to allow veterans to apply for SNAP benefits while their disability claim is pending with the VA.

It's unclear when the House will take up the bill again. The process was slowed by the GOP's reaction to the defeat of Eric Cantor, R-Va., in his primary election and subsequent resignation as House Majority Leader.

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This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. on June 12.


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