Despite a White House veto threat over some provisions in the text, House Democrats are pushing through a fiscal 2020 spending bill that includes funding for departments and agencies critical to agriculture. 

On Thursday, the House adopted a series of amendments that included a 10% increase in the Agriculture Department’s rural broadband funding.

The legislation combines five different spending bills, including measures funding USDA, FDA, the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The White House has threatened to veto the bill for a variety of reasons, including funding levels for EPA and other agencies that far exceed what President Donald Trump wanted and several policy provisions, including one that would bar USDA from relocating the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the nation’s capital. 

Another policy rider the White House objects to would essentially stop USDA from making proposed changes in how hog slaughter plants are inspected until the department’s inspector general reviews the data used to justify the planned reforms. 

A final vote on the House bill is not expected until next week.

Amendments approved by the House on Thursday would:

  • Boost the bill’s funding for USDA’s ReConnect rural broadband loan and grant program to $605 million, a $55 million increase over the amount approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The amendment was approved, 408-22.
  • Bar USDA from removing existing information about climate change from official publications and prohibit the U.S. Geological Survey from lifting the use of climate modeling tools. The amendments were among many adopted on a voice vote. 
  • Allocate $500,000 to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board to review the agency’s proposed “science transparency” rule. Critics claim the rule would make it more difficult to conduct long-term epidemiological studies.

The Agriculture portion of the bill would provide $24.3 billion in FY20 for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $1 billion more than what was provided for the current year, for “discretionary” programs, whose funding is determined by annual appropriations bills. 

Other spending, including USDA’s commodity programs, is considered mandatory because funding levels are set by farm bills and other authorizing legislation. 

The FY20 bill rejects Trump’s proposals to slash many USDA programs and instead includes some significant increases for rural development and international foreign aid. 

Rural development programs, including broadband assistance, would be increased by 13%. International food assistance would be increased by 19%.

The overall funding levels are at best tentative, however, because Congress has yet to agree on FY20 spending levels. The Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t started writing its FY20 bills while waiting for an agreement on funding caps.

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