Assured of President Donald Trump's support, Congress easily cleared a fiscal 2019 spending agreement Thursday to avert another government shutdown and fund USDA, Interior, FDA and other departments and agencies important to agriculture through Sept. 30.
The Senate passed the bill, 83-16, shortly after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that Trump would sign the bill and also issue a national emergency declaration dealing with the border. The House later approved the bill Thursday evening, 300-128.
The massive, 1,169-page spending bill, which combines seven individual FY19 spending bills, most of which were negotiated by House and Senate appropriators but never enacted, including the Agriculture measure that funds USDA and FDA, and the Interior-Environment measure that funds the Interior Department, EPA and the Forest Service.
Details of most of the bills were released by House Democrats in January, but negotiators didn't reach agreement on Trump's demands for border security funding until this week.
USDA will get major increases for rural broadband assistance as well as for agricultural research. The Agriculture section also will continue prohibitions on horse slaughter and on the use of chicken imported from China in the school lunch program.
The Interior-Environment section is largely free of environmental policy riders, except for a prohibition on the Fish and Wildlife Service spending any money to propose listing the greater sage-grouse or the Columbia basin distinct population segment of greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
The non-binding explanatory statement that accompanies the bill directs Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide estimates of the costs and benefits of his plan to relocate the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the nation’s capital.
The negotiators said they want Perdue to “delay indefinitely” his plan to pull ERS out from under the undersecretary for research, education and economics and put it in the Office of Chief Economist, part of the secretary’s office.
The statement also gives USDA and FDA 60 days to sign a memorandum of understanding spelling out how cell-cultured meat products will be regulated.
The departments and agencies covered by the seven bills have either been partially shut down or operating since Sept. 30 under FY18 spending levels.
USDA will get an additional $550 million for broadband grants and loans to go with the $600 million the department received last year as part of a pilot program. The bill also earmarks nearly $3.2 billion for agricultural research, an increase of $405 million over what USDA received in fiscal 2018.
Other highlights of the bill:
-The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will get $1.01 billion, a $29 increase from FY18.
-For a second year in a row, congressional appropriators rejected Trump’s proposals to kill America’s flagship international food aid program, Food for Peace, and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. Food for Peace will be funded at $1.7 billion, the same amount it recede in FY18. The McGovern-Dole program will get a small, $2.6 million increase to $210.3 million.
-FDA would get increases of $2 million to carry out cooperative agreements for enforcing the Food Safety Modernization Act, $2.8 million for food Import safety, $5 million for food safety outbreaks, $500,000 to test antibiotic resistance in Imported seafood, $2 million for standard of identity and product labeling, and $1.5 million for educating consumers on agricultural biotechnology.
-The Commodity Futures Trading Commission will get an increase of $19 million to $268 million.
-Congressional appropriators also rejected Trump's proposal to cut EPA by $2.7 billion. EPA will be funded at $8.8 billion, a $25 million increase over FY18.
Left out of the agreement were extensions of expired tax incentives, including the $1-a-gallon tax credit for biodiesel, and $3 billion in agricultural disaster aid for damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires last year.
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said he couldn't support the spending agreement without the disaster aid. "When this spending package was released without disaster assistance, I was disappointed and frustrated that the assurances we have heard for months that relief would be included in spending measures to reopen the government were empty promises,” said Scott.
The disaster aid bill was held up because of Republican objections to provisions for Puerto Rico.
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