The House approved and sent to President Biden's desk Friday a $1.7 trillion year-end spending bill that includes $3.7 billion in farm disaster aid and clears some key unfinished business for agriculture, including measures to help producers take advantage of carbon markets.
The 225-201 House vote followed Thursday's 68-29 approval by the Senate, where 18 Republicans supported the bill. In the House, 216 Democrats joined nine Republicans in the majority, while 200 Republicans were joined by one Democrat in the minority.
House Republicans called the 4,155-page bill a "Christmas tree" larded with unnecessary spending that will exacerbate inflation.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said it was a "monstrosity" and accused Democrats of not adequately funding efforts to protect America's border from illegal immigration and drugs from Mexico. He also said the bill included "woke handouts" such as "$8.6 million for gender advisor programs at the Pentagon."
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., countered that more than 100 community projects had been funded at the request of Republican members and said Republicans had walked away from negotiations. He thanked the Senate Republicans who voted for it, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
McCarthy, who is working to win over the hard-line conservative votes he needs to be elected House speaker in January, had already come out against the bill, threatening to scuttle legislation sponsored by Senate Republicans who supported it.
Among the 18 Senate Republicans who voted for the measure was the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, who helped negotiate the agriculture and child nutrition provisions that were added to the package.
"Most of what’s in here has been put together in a bipartisan fashion,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, urged passage, noting that even though it's not perfect, the bill has "a lot of good stuff” in it.
The Senate's final action was delayed a day by Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee's insistence that the Senate vote on retaining the Trump-era Title 42 policy at the border, which allows border officials to expel migrants who have crossed the border.
Lee sought to withhold funding for the Department of Homeland Security unless the administration reinstated the policy, but his amendment failed, 50-47.
The disaster aid is supposed to help cover farmers’ losses from drought and other disasters. Additionally, the bill includes $250 million for special payments to rice growers, who haven't benefitted from the sharp rises in market prices that other grain producers and soybean producers have seen.
Also attached to the bill is the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would authorize USDA to oversee the registration of farm technical advisers and carbon-credit verification services, and the SUSTAINS Act, which would allow corporations and other private entities to contribute funding for conservation projects and authorize USDA to match the donations.
The lead GOP sponsor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, opposed the larger bill but expressed relief that his measure was attached. "It's one of lots of bills that go through a vehicle that you wish you could vote for. But I'm glad that it made it across the finish line," he told Agri-Pulse. Braun, who is running for governor of Indiana in 2024, had portrayed the legislation as a victory for Democrats.
The omnibus also would reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which imposes fees for maintenance and registration of active ingredients. The measure boosts registration and maintenance fees 30% and allows EPA to raise fees by 5% in 2024 and 2026.
The bill also includes a significant provision to ensure low-income kids have enough to eat during summer months. The bill will make permanent a summer EBT program to provide up to $40 a month per child. The provision would allow grab-and-go or home delivery of meals to kids in rural areas as an alternative to meals in group settings.
Defending the bill, McConnell said Wednesday “the world's greatest military will get the funding increases that it needs, outpacing inflation. Meanwhile, non-defense, non-veteran spending will come in below the rate of inflation.”
A senior GOP member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Jerry Moran of Kansas, lamented the fact that lawmakers had moved away from the tradition of moving 12 individual appropriations bills and instead had continued to cobble together massive spending measures at the end of the year.
“We all would be better off if we broke this down into the 12 separate parts that are now combined into this one large bill,” Moran said. “We would know much more about it, and the deliberations would be more forthright.” Moran voted for the bill.
Notably missing from the legislation are any reforms to the H-2A farmworker visa program which farm groups had lobbied for until the last possible hour. McCarthy has said the Republican-controlled House won’t consider immigration reform in the next Congress.
This story will be updated.
Read the Agri-Pulse report on the omnibus bill here.
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