The Democratic-controlled House Agriculture Committee on Monday approved a partisan spending package that is expected to grow to $94 billion once new funding for farm bill conservation programs is added.
The legislation that the committee advanced on a party-line, 27-24 vote, would provide $66 billion for agricultural research, renewable energy, rural development and forestry. The legislation will be folded into a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better spending plan that Democrats are developing to carry out President Joe Biden’s progressive agenda, including measures to address climate change.
The $28 billion in conservation program funding will be added to the package before it is considered on the House floor, said House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga. He said the provisions were held up because of delays in getting cost estimates.
“Right now it’s in the works,” Scott said of the conservation section. “We feel very confident.”
Republicans expressed outrage at the level of spending in the bill as well as the policy priorities. “I cannot find where production agriculture gets one penny” from the legislation, said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga.
On Monday, Democrats voted down a series of GOP amendments that the committee had debated for nine hours on Friday. The rejected amendments included one offered by the committee's top Republican, Glenn "GT" Thompson, that would have gutted the legislation and replaced it with two bipartisan bills that the committee approved earlier, one extending the WHIP-Plus disaster aid program and the other expanding rural broadband assistance.
The Democratic measure contains $7.75 billion for agricultural research that would be aimed at addressing climate change, including $2.6 billion for USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which funds research at colleges and universities.
Another $18 billion is designated for rural development programs, $9.7 billion of which would go to rural electric cooperatives and rural communities for renewable energy. An additional $960 million is designated for biofuel infrastructure, including upgraded pumps and tanks.
The largest share of funding in the measure — $40 billion— would go toward forestry programs designed to help prevent wildfires and improve forest health.
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“These are long-overdue investments that will create green jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester more carbon in our forests, and empower American farmers, ranchers, and foresters with the research and technology they need to address climate change,” said committee Democrat Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.
After the committee action, Thompson issued a statement saying that committee Democrats "sadly fell in line with Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi yet again during the second hyper-partisan reconciliation process this year. I’m greatly disappointed to see my colleagues across the aisle so brazenly disrespect the long bipartisan history of this great committee by supporting this socialist spending spree."
It is not the first that that the committee's traditional bipartisanship has been disrupted. In 2018, Republicans forced through the committee a farm bill that included cuts to nutrition spending that Democrats unanimously opposed.
On Friday, the House Education and Labor Committee separately approved provisions containing $35 billion in spending for school meals and other child nutrition assistance.
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