The Senate brings out its fiscal 2024 spending measure for USDA and FDA this week, a bill that is shaping up to be an early test in a looming showdown with House Republicans over government funding. 

The Democratic-controlled Senate is planning to mark its spending bills up to the spending caps that President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed to in the recent debt ceiling agreement. The House, on the other hand, is pursuing much deeper cuts in spending to satisfy a group of hard-line conservatives unhappy with the debt deal. 

The House Appropriations Committee last week advanced a $25.6 billion Agriculture spending bill that relies on $8 billion in funding rescissions that have little chance of passing the cuts. If the rescissions are counted, the bill would reduce spending by 2% from fiscal 2023. If the rescissions don't materialize, which is unlikely, spending would have to be slashed by 30% to a level not seen since 2007.

A senior Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Jerry Moran of Kansas, acknowledges “it’s going to be a real challenge” to reach an agreement between the Senate and House on funding the government for FY24, which starts Oct. 1. 

Congress is headed into a “very difficult appropriations season,” he told Agri-Pulse. 

In an angry exchange last week following the House committee's consideration of the Agriculture bill, senior Democrats accused Republicans of breaking the deal between Biden and McCarthy. “There was no deal, apparently,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Republicans led by Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., insisted the deal only set limits on how much could be spent. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee will meet Thursday to debate its version of the FY24 Agriculture bill as well as the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measure. Those are two of the 12 annual bills needed to fund the government.

The plan is then to take the two bills to the Senate floor for debate, something that hasn’t been done in several years. In recent times, Senate leaders have avoided time-consuming floor debates on appropriations bills that can expose programs to attacks through the amendment process. 

The Agriculture and Military Construction bills are generally among the least controversial of the 12 measures, which is why the committee is going to move them to the floor first, said the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, John Hoeven of North Dakota.

“Hopefully, there should be broad-based support (for the two bills), and they should be — maybe be — a little easier, because they don't have some of the challenges that some of the other bills may have,” Hoeven said. 

The Agriculture bill funds day-to-day operations at USDA and FDA as well as agricultural research, food inspections, rural development and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program. 

Lawmakers do have a significant incentive to eventually compromise on FY24 spending: Under the debt ceiling agreement, if Congress failed to enact 12 appropriations bills this year, spending will be cut by 1% across the board, both defense and domestic programs.

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“That’s a motivator, right? Because the defense guys want the defense funding,” Hoeven told Agri-Pulse, referring to pro-defense Republicans. “The Democrats by and large want nondefense” spending. 

Also this week, EPA is facing a Wednesday deadline to issue the nation's biofuel blending requirements for 2023 through 2025. The deadline had been this past Wednesday, but the agency reached an agreement with the industry group Growth Energy for a one-week extension

Representatives of companies producing renewable diesel and biodiesel continued to lobby the White House last week to increase the proposed targets

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill this week, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday on allegations that meatpacking giant JBS has relied on deforested ranch land in Brazil's Amazon region to feed the company's demand for beef cattle. The witnesses will include Jason Weller, a chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service during the Obama administration who is now global chief sustainability officer for JBS.

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, June 19

Juneteenth federal holiday

Tuesday, June 20

4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Wednesday, June 21

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing, "Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America," 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. — House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee hearing on EPA’s proposed emission standards for motor vehicles and power plants, 2247 Rayburn.

Thursday, June 22

10 a.m. — House Budget Committee hearing, “Reigniting American Growth and Prosperity Series: Incentivizing Economic Excellence Through Tax and Trade,” 210 Cannon.

10 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing, “Cattle Supply Chains and Deforestation of the Amazon,” 215 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. — Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Agriculture spending bills for fiscal 2024, 106 Dirksen.

Friday, June 23

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

9 a.m. — USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.

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