Republicans on the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday advanced a fiscal 2024 spending bill for USDA and FDA over Democratic accusations that it was a “sham proposal” that relied on funding rescissions that were unlikely to materialize in time.

The bill, approved by the panel on a voice vote, relies on a series of major USDA cuts, including clawing back $500 million in unspent pandemic aid, rescinding $5.75 billion provided by the Inflation Reduction Act for clean energy and farm loan relief, and restricting Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s ability to use the Commodity Credit Corp. account.

Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., said the bill “prioritizes essential functions while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars supporting the core mission.” He noted the bill included small increases for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Food Safety Inspection Service and maintained funding for the Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency as well as FDA.

Harris also defended the new restriction on Vilsack’s use of CCC, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would save $1 billion.

“I would submit to my colleagues, the real savings to taxpayers of taking these authorities away are even much higher than the CBO score,” Harris said. “Let me be clear, restricting these authorities and returning them to pre-COVID language will have no impact on farm bill and conservation programs, crop insurance or the secretary's ability to access the CCC in the case of an animal or health emergency.” 

The CCC provision essentially would reinstate a restriction that Republicans lifted so that then-President Donald Trump could compensate farmers for his trade war with China. Vilsack has come under fire from GOP lawmakers for using the CCC to fund the $3 billion Partnerships in Climate-Smart Commodities initiative.

Democrats said the funding rescissions included in the bill would likely not take effect in time to help pay for the spending bill.   

Not counting the rescissions, the bill would provide $17.2 billion to USDA in FY24, which would be the lowest spending level since 2006 and a cut of $8.7 billion from FY23. The GOP proposal is $11.7 billion below what President Joe Biden requested for FY24.

“House Republicans appear to be proceeding, because of a promise they made to each other to slash the nondefense programs that our families depend on to thrive,” said the top Democrat on the full House Appropriations Committee, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.

DeLauro quoted from a statement by Vilsack that called the bill “pathetic” and “petty.”

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The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, criticized the CCC restriction, among other provisions of the bill.

“The CCC is a tool to benefit agricultural producers, no matter which party is in the White House,” Bishop said. “The only folks that suffer when any administration is not allowed to use the CCC at its discretion are the ag producers.”

The bill also would block USDA from issuing a series of rules intended to restrict contracting practices and increase competition in the meat and poultry sectors.

“On the regulatory front, this legislation puts a stop to USDA's effort under the Packers and Stockyards Act to dictate how poultry and livestock producers raise and market their animals,” said Harris.

Bishop singled out for criticism a provision that he said would punish USDA’s Office of Communications because of a press release related to the debt limit.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Bishop said. “The bill should be a vehicle by which we help Americans from all walks of life. But what's here today before us does not meet the moment.”

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