The Democratic-controlled House approved a package of fiscal 2021 spending bills Friday that would provide about $1 billion for rural broadband expansion while blocking the Trump administration from cutting food stamp rolls and carrying out key regulatory relief measures.
The legislation, approved on a near-party-line 224-189 vote, combines four bills that include funding for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration, Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency, among other departments and agencies.
The legislation rejects proposed White House budget cuts, and Democrats easily defeated GOP floor amendments aimed at slashing the measure’s spending levels.
The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, but the GOP-controlled Senate hasn’t started working on its version of the spending bills. So, Congress will face a familiar scenario in September where a continuing resolution will be needed to keep the government operating into October, likely until after the Nov. 4 election.
Seven Democrats broke ranks and voted against the FY21 measure Friday, including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who faces a tough re-election race in his Republican-leaning district.
The chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Georgia Democrat Sanford Bishop, said the USDA-FDA portion of the bill "truly touches the life of every American by robustly funding food and medical device safety, rural and farm production programs, agriculture and medical research initiatives, plus national and international food assistance—among other programs that benefit the America people."
But Kansas Republican Roger Marshall, who is running for the Senate and voted against the legislation, said that "Democrats decided to load this bill with partisan left-wing priorities to cater to their radical base."
Many of the bill’s policy riders, especially the attacks on administration’s agenda, stand little chance of getting enacted if Republicans retain control of the Senate in November.
A Democratic floor amendment adopted on Thursday would block USDA from using an executive order issued by President Donald Trump aimed at keeping meatpacking operations operating during the COVID-19 crisis. Critics say the order put plant workers at risk.
Another amendment would prevent Trump from changing requirements for federal environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. The NEPA rule seeks to accelerate and limit the review process.
The legislation would stop the administration from carrying out rules tightening eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and limiting the benefits some people receive.
The legislation would provide just under $24 billion for discretionary spending programs at USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a $487 million increase over FY20, which ends Sept. 30.
Discretionary spending programs, which include agricultural research, many rural development programs and food safety regulation, are subject to annual appropriations. Most farm programs are considered mandatory spending, because eligibility and spending levels are set by the farm bill.
The Interior Department would receive $13.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for FY21, an increase of $304 million above this year and $1.8 billion more than Trump requested.
The bill would provide $9.4 billion for EPA, an increase of $318 million from this year and $2.7 billion more than the White House wanted. The EPA allocation includes $555 million, a $45 million increase from FY20, for the agency’s so-called geographic programs, which fund restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and other bodies of water.
The bill includes $1.1 billion in broadband funding for USDA and includes an additional $990 million for USDA’s’ ReConnect program, which was created by Congress in 2018 to provide loans and grants for rural broadband expansion.
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The legislation would extend authority for industrial hemp pilot programs through fiscal 2021. States with pilot are currently required to switch over to USDA-approved plans by Oct. 31. Some state officials have said that is impractical.
The bill would provide $190 million for USDA’s marketing programs, a $2 million increase over 2020. The funding includes $16.5 million for USDA’s new hemp production program.
The bill would provide $3.3 billion for agriculture research, a $90 million increase over 2020.
Also included in the bill is $2 billion for international food assistance programs that President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to kill. The measure would provide $1.8 billion for the Food for Peace program and $235 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program.
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