That didn’t last long. Just two weeks after Congress passed the debt ceiling agreement, the fiscal 2024 spending process is getting off to a rocky start. Democrats charge that Republicans are already reneging on the deal, starting with the FY24 funding bill for USDA and FDA. 

Top Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee suggested that a small group of about 20 hard-line conservatives has forced GOP leaders to seek deeper cuts than were intended in the agreement between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The $25.3 billion, FY24 USDA-FDA bill that Republicans advanced through the committee on Wednesday includes $8 billion in funding rescissions that have little chance of passing the Senate but would still reduce funding by 2% to near the FY22 level. 

The basics of the feud: House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, said the spending caps in the debt ceiling agreement “set a ceiling, not a floor” under spending. 

But Democrats said that was disingenuous. “There is no sense in me coming to a deal with you, where you have a $50 difference between 50 and 100. and we make a deal at 75, if you come back to me after the deal is done and say, ‘Oh, we meant that 75 was the ceiling.’ That's not a deal,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

But Republicans didn’t back down. Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, the Republican chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, suggested Hoyer hadn’t listened to McCarthy’s interpretation of the deal. “He said we will not spend more in fiscal year ’24 than we spend in fiscal year ’23. …  We can try to fool the American public with smoke and mirrors and pretend, but the speaker was clear.”

Why it matters: This deeply partisan feud over spending is only beginning, and the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. It remains to be seen what this means for other legislation, like the farm bill. 

Industry to EPA: Give WOTUS a rest

Agricultural and other industry groups are urging the Biden administration to stop defending its “waters of the U.S.” rule, which suffered what appeared to be a fatal blow with the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision last month.

EPA this week appealed an injunction issued by a federal judge in North Dakota that halted enforcement of the rule in 24 states. Another injunction in Texas stopped enforcement in that state and Idaho.

“Rather than doubling down, we urge the federal government to promptly implement the [Supreme] Court’s decision,” said Courtney Briggs of the Waters Advocacy Coalition. Briggs is senior director of government affairs at WAC member American Farm Bureau Federation.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling offers farmers, small businesses, private property owners and job creators clarity to continue to support the needs of America’s families while also protecting our nation’s valuable water resources,” Briggs said.

By the way: A fiscal 2024 spending bill Republicans proposed Wednesday for the Army Corps of Engineers includes a provision to terminate the WOTUS rule. 

The Energy-Water funding bill also would allocate $456 million for construction projects on the inland waterways system, which would fully fund ongoing work, according to a summary of the bill

But the Energy-Water bill, like the Agriculture measure approved in committee Wednesday, relies heavily on funding rescissions. The bill’s cuts include $4.5 billion that was earmarked in the Inflation Reduction Act for rebates on new electric appliances or installation of home electrification projects. 

Ukrainian ag suffers after dam explosion

The explosion last week that took down Ukraine’s Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam is taking a major toll on Ukrainian farmers in Kherson, one of the most fertile regions in the country, according to Pavlo Koval, general director of the Ukrainian Agrarian Confederation.

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About 85% of farmers in Kherson are dependent on irrigation, and the destruction of the dam disabled 92% of the region’s systems that reach about 800,000 acres of farmland, said Koval in a statement.

About 4 million metric tons of grain and oilseeds are grown in Kherson, but the most damage is being done to Ukrainian specialty crops.

Koval said “the biggest loss is open field vegetables, early vegetables, berries, and melons. Kherson region produced 35% of Ukraine’s vegetable harvest.”

FDA to conduct research on front-of-package food labels

FDA is planning a new study on front-of-package labeling for foods to follow up on research conducted with focus groups last year. The study will use a randomized, 15-minute web-based questionnaire of 9,000 adults to test some of the labeling schemes originally used with the focus groups. 

Standardized, science-based labeling “could help consumers, particularly those with less nutrition knowledge, quickly and easily identify foods that can help them build a healthy eating pattern,” the agency says. “The experiences of countries worldwide that have adopted front-of-package labeling suggest that such labeling may help nutrition comprehension and the ability to make healthier choices.”

By the way: FDA has extended a comment period until Sept. 25 for its draft guidance for dietary guidance statements in food labeling. The statements include wording like this: “Make half your grains whole grains,” and “Eat a variety of vegetables.”

He said it. “We can no longer ignore the writing on the wall. We must act to stop this threat now before it becomes too late.” – Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., urging the House Appropriations Committee to approve an amendment directing USDA to take “any action as may be necessary” to stop U.S. farmland purchases by people and businesses connected to Russia, North Korea, Iran and the Chinese Communist Party. The amendment was approved, although Democrats said it would have little impact.