House Democrats, struggling to maintain their tenuous control over the House amid soaring food and fuel prices, won passage Thursday of a package of bills aimed at promoting competition in the meat sector, reducing fertilizer usage and expanding the use of biofuels.

Republicans portrayed the Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act as a “messaging bill” that would do little to address inflation while attempting to deflect attention from the Biden administration’s policies. But the bill passed, 221-204, with support from seven Midwest Republicans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill shows “Democrats’ unyielding commitment to fight inflation.” She asserted the $700 million legislation would lower meat prices while at the same time forcing packers to pay more for cattle and poultry and also cutting gas prices through increased usage of ethanol.

Republicans focused their criticism on a measure included in the package that would create a special investigator's office in USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Division to probe allegations of unfair trade practices in the meat and poultry industry

Other provisions are intended to allow year-round sales of E15fund additional biofuel infrastructureincrease payments under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for nutrient management practices; increase funding for precision agriculture; establish a USDA-run Agricultural and Food System Supply Chain Resilience and Crisis Response Task Force; and authorize loan guarantees for meat and poultry processing expansion.

A Democratic amendment adopted during floor debate would authorize USDA to spend $100 million to increase domestic fertilizer production, an effort Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is already undertaking.

“Whether you look at the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the global disruptions associated with Putin’s war on Ukraine, American farmers, American ranchers and consumers are facing right now terrible, increasing costs on the farm, at the grocery store, and at the gas station,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga.

Some of the provisions in the bill had Republican co-sponsors, including the meat investigator measure and the funding for precision agriculture.

The Senate Agriculture Committee will vote on the Senate version of the meat investigator bill next Wednesday along with legislation to mandate minimum levels of cash trading in the cattle sector. Both measures have Senate GOP sponsors.

Seeking to keep the political heat on Democrats over the inflation issue, House Republicans sought to shift the focus to the Biden administration’s regulatory agenda, including the pending revisions to the “waters of the U.S.” rule that defines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and a proposal by the Securities and Exchange Commission to require corporations to track and disclose greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chains.

The Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act would do nothing to immediately lower food and fuel costs, said Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the House Ag Committee. 

“Long before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, America's farm families and consumers were struggling with fractured supply chains, skyrocketing input costs and historic levels of inflation, each of which continue to contribute to increasing food prices in diminished inventories,” Thompson said.

He and GOP colleagues said meatpackers were unfairly being singled out for blame for inflation.

It’s “not surprising the party of 'defund the police' also has become the party of 'more cops for cows.' At every turn, this administration has obsessively pointed the finger at the packing industry, in particular blaming them almost single-handedly for rising food costs,” Thompson said.

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Beef prices have risen sharply over the past year, but a wide range of other foods have as well, including dairy products, eggs, bakery products and fruits and vegetables. Supermarket prices shot up a seasonally adjusted 1.4% in May, and have risen 11.9% over the past 12 months, according to the latest Consumer Price Index.

Defending the meat industry measure, Scott said that one industry executive — JBS USA CEO Tim Schellpeper — had responded “not that I'm aware of” when asked at a hearing whether packers had colluded to fix prices. That response showed the investigator’s office was necessary, Scott said.

“You must understand what we are dealing with here and why just that reply from them requires an investigation,” Scott said.

The seven Republicans who voted for the bill were Don Bacon of Nebraska, Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota.

Five Democrats opposed the legislation: Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Peter Welch of Vermont.

A letter House Republicans sent to President Joe Biden ahead of the floor debate charges that the president “has neglected to take serious action to increase American production.”

Instead, Biden “proposed massive new tax liabilities for farmers,” while imposing a regulatory agenda that “would further limit American farmers’ ability to meet global food demand. America’s agriculture sector is vital to alleviating global food crises,” the letter said.

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