White House outlines opposition to Ag Appropriations bill

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.


WASHINGTON, June 13 - Just one day before the measure will be debated on the House floor, the Obama Administration raised serious concerns about the content of H.R. 2112, which provides funds for USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies through 2012.


The Administration also said it strongly opposes inclusion of “ideological and political provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation.”


In a Statement of Administration Policy sent to House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky, on Monday, the Office of Management and Budget said the Administration is committed to “ensuring the Nation lives within its means and reducing the deficit. That is why the President put forth a comprehensive fiscal framework that reduces the deficit by $4 trillion, supports economic growth and long-term job creation, protects critical investments, and meets the commitments made to provide dignity and security to Americans no matter their circumstances.


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“While overall funding limits and subsequent allocations remain unclear pending the outcome of ongoing bipartisan, bicameral discussions between the Administration and congressional leadership on the Nation's long-term fiscal picture, the bill provides insufficient funding for a number of programs in a way that undermines core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation.”


House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas also expressed concerns about the measure in a meeting with members of the Rules Committee on Monday, citing several examples where lawmakers were legislating on an appropriations bill.


They include two sections related to funding of the U.S-Brazil WTO Cotton agreement, one of which would mandate a $147 million reduction in direct payments to cotton farmers to offset payments to the Brazil Cotton Institute. A third section would prohibit USDA from sending farm and/or conservation checks to any individual with an annual adjusted gross income in excess of $250,000.


Lucas and Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson successfully persuaded a majority of the Rules panel to let lawmakers raise points of order against the three provisions, which Peterson said would “effectively amend the 2008 Farm Bill; the results of which could be detrimental to current farm safety net programs.”


The Rules Committee voted to set aside 1 hour for general debate on the underlying USDA-FDA spending bill divided equally between the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. Any member may propose an amendment as long as the amendment complies with standing rules of the House and the Budget Act.



According to the White House, programs adversely affected by the bill include:


Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  The Administration strongly objects to the level of funding provided for nutrition programs that are critical to the health of nutritionally at-risk women, infants, children, and elderly adults.  The proposed funding levels would lead to hundreds of thousands of participants being cut from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and reduce Federal support for food banks.  These cuts would undermine efforts to prevent hunger and support sound nutrition for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Food Safety.  The Administration is concerned with the funding provided in the bill for the Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which will significantly hamper USDA's ability to inspect food processing plants and prevent food borne illnesses and disease such as E. coli and Salmonella from contaminating America's food supply.  The Committee's recommendation may require the agency to furlough employees including frontline inspectors which make up over 80 percent of FSIS staff.   By reducing FSIS inspections, food processing plants may be forced to reduce line speeds, which could lead to decreasing product output and profits, as well as plant closures.  


Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI).  The Administration is concerned that the bill does not support HFFI, which is a key initiative to combat childhood obesity.  HFFI will expand USDA's activities to bring healthy foods to low-income Americans and increase the availability of affordable, healthy foods in underserved urban and rural communities by bringing grocery stores and other fresh food retailers to “food desert” communities where there is little or no access to healthy food.

Research.  The bill provides insufficient funds for USDA research programs, which are needed to help solve food production, safety, quality, energy and environmental problems.  By reducing funding for the Agricultural Research Service to its lowest level since 2004 as well as inadequately funding the Nation's competitive grant program, the bill will hinder the Department's ability to develop solutions to address current as well as impending critical national and international challenges.


Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The Administration is concerned that the funding level in the bill and resulting staff reductions will severely limit the FDA's ability to protect the public's health, assure the American consumer that food and medical products are safe, and improve Americans' access to safe and less costly generic drugs and biologics.


Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).  The Administration strongly objects to the funding level for CFTC, as it would cause a cut in staffing levels and seriously undermine CFTC's ability to protect investors and consumers by effectively policing the futures and swaps marketplace through its current market oversight and enforcement functions.  Moreover, the funding level would significantly curtail the timely, effective implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including new CFTC responsibilities to regulate the $300 trillion swaps derivatives market.


International Food Aid.  The Administration opposes the level of funding provided for the Food for Peace Title II international food aid program as it would severely limit the United States' ability to provide food assistance in response to emergencies and disasters around the world.  Given a statutory floor on non-emergency development food aid, a reduction would be borne entirely by the emergency component of the program, and would prevent distribution of emergency food aid to over 1.1 million beneficiaries.

In addition, the bill includes the following problematic policy and language issues:


Restrictions on Finalizing USDA Regulations.  The Administration opposes the inclusion of section 721 of the bill, which effectively prevents USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing a rule on conduct that would violate the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.  The final rule has not yet been published and any concerns about the rule are better addressed through the standard rulemaking process than through an appropriations rider.


Restrictions on FDA Regulations and Guidance.  The Administration strongly opposes section 740 of the bill, which would undermine or nullify FDA statutory standards that have been in place for decades and that are essential to protect the health of Americans.  The provision would unduly limit the factors that FDA considers in determining the best ways to protect the public from unsafe foods; protect the safety of the blood supply from HIV, West Nile Virus, and other infections; ensure the safety of infant formula; protect patients from drugs and medical devices that have not been shown to be safe and effective; assure that food labeling and health claims on foods are accurate; and reduce youth use of tobacco products and otherwise reduce illness and death caused by tobacco use.


WTO Trade Dispute.  The Administration is concerned by a provision in section 743 that would eliminate payments that are being made as part of the mutually agreed settlement of a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute regarding U.S. domestic cotton supports and the export credit guarantee program.  The framework serves as a basis to avoid trade-related countermeasures by Brazil that are authorized by the WTO until the enactment of successor legislation to the current Farm Bill.  Under the agreement, the United States is committed to fund technical assistance and capacity-building support for Brazil's cotton sector.  The bill's provision preempts the resolution process and would open the door to retaliation negatively affecting U.S. exports and interests.




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