Senate clears spending measure, tax extenders on tap

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2014 - The $1.1 trillion government-wide spending measure is on its way to President Obama for his signature, but the Senate still has to vote this week on a tax extenders bill that also is critical to agriculture.

 The Senate cleared the omnibus spending bill Saturday night, 56-40, over opposition that spanned the ideological spectrum.

The legislation, H.R. 83, includes a series of policy riders important to agriculture, including ones that would kill livestock industry regulations opposed by the packing industry and an interpretive rule detailing agricultural exemptions to Clean Water Act permitting requirements. Also included in the measure is language allowing school districts more flexibility in complying with whole-grains requirements in USDA's new nutrition standards.

Another environmental rider would block the administration from protecting species of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

The explanatory statement accompanying the bill's Agriculture section orders Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack not to implement a second beef checkoff program and requires him to develop recommendations for altering the country-of-origin meat labeling law (COOL) to bring it into compliance with a World Trade Organization decision.

Together we can feed the Bees"

Many key appropriators supported the spending legislation, including the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Roy Blunt of Missouri; Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who will become chairman of the full committee in January; and John Hoeven, R-N.D., who successfully pushed for the school nutrition measure.

“I'm pleased we were able to provide more certainty for our nation's farmers and ranchers so they can continue working to feed the country and the world,” said Blunt.

The White House last week indicated that the president would sign the legislation although he doesn't like some provisions, including language that would kill part of the Dodd-Frank law forcing big banks to spin off their derivatives business. Senate liberals led by Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., portrayed the bill as a giveaway to Wall Street

The bill will fund all of the government except the Department of Homeland Security through Sept. 30. The temporary funding for DHS was intended to attract conservatives by ensuring that there will be a battle over immigration policy early next year.

The lame-duck Senate will return to work Monday with the House-passed tax-extenders bill still on its agenda along with some nominations. The extenders legislation, H.R. 5771, would temporarily reinstate more than 50 expired tax measures, including the Section 179 expensing allowance that is widely used by farmers and therefore critical to their suppliers.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week that the Senate would deal with the omnibus spending bill and defense authorization legislation before taking up the tax extenders.

The Section 179 provision would keep the expensing limitation at $500,000 for this year, the level that has been effect since 2010. Without the extension it reverts to $25,000. The bill also would reinstate the $1-a-gallon tax credit for biodiesel as well as tax subsidies for wind energy, next-generation biofuels and ethanol infrastructure.

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The American Soybean Association called the spending bill a “mixed bag,” noting that some of the group's priorities received steady or improved funding while others received cuts.

“It doesn't give us 100 percent of what we need, but it does recognize a significant number of our priorities,” said ASA President Wade Cowan.

ASA said it was disappointed with the bill's cuts to some conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).  At the same time, it said it was happy with the 3 percent boost in funding provided for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and “very supportive” of the provision that would withdraw the EPA's interpretive rule on Clean Water Act exemptions.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council said the spending bill includes several “strong wins” for the cattle industry. In a joint news release, the two groups said they were especially happy with the withdrawal of the EPA interpretive rule, and its actions regarding the sage grouse and the Endangered Species Act.

“The passage by both the House and Senate is a clear message that Congress supports our industry and is willing to put a stop to the overzealous administration and their attempt to take production agriculture off the land,” NCBA President Bob McCan, and Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards said in the release.

 

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