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.
“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 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.
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.
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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