House Republican leaders gave up trying to pass the fiscal 2024 Agriculture funding bill ahead of the August recess after they were unable to satisfy demands from a band of hard-line conservatives who are seeking deeper cuts in spending.

Delaying action on the FY24 bill, which would fund USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, puts off potential fights over amendments targeting farm programs and could also delay floor action on a new farm bill.

The House Rules Committee met Wednesday to prepare the spending bill for floor debate but never voted on a rule that determines which amendments get debated on the floor.

GOP leaders had scheduled floor action this week on both the Agriculture bill and the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measure, two of the least controversial of the 12 annual appropriations bills. Ultimately, the House only voted on Military Construction-VA, which passed along party lines Thursday, 219-211.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., told Agri-Pulse he still wants to move a farm bill in September but acknowledged that the timing will be tied closely to when there will be time to consider it on the House floor.

“I’ll hold back on the markup until I have a clear window when the floor week's going to be, because I want it to time up well,” Thompson said.

In the meantime, the House GOP conference needs to have a “family discussion” about the appropriations process, he said.

The House will be in recess until Sept. 12 and is scheduled to be in session for just 12 days in September ahead of the end of the fiscal year. Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded after Oct. 1.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., played down the delay in the appropriations process. McCarthy met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and indicated they discussed the possibility of beginning negotiations on the FY24 spending measures before Sept. 30.

“Leader Schumer had the same commitment that I had. Let's get this work done and let's try to get it done before Sept. 30,” he said.

Referring to the difficulty of passing the individual appropriations bills, McCarthy said, “It's always better to have bills pass off the floor. That's what our goal is. … Same on their side as well," he added, referring to the Senate. 

McCarthy also stressed to reporters that the House GOP already is cutting spending.

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"It’s not just the Ag bill. It’s any bill that comes to the floor. We are going to look at any place that we can find and save money, because we’re saving the hard working American taxpayer their money," he said. 

The FY24 Agriculture bill would provide a total of $25.3 billion for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a reduction of 2% from the amount they got for FY23. Even that funding level depends on a mix of about $8 billion in rescissions of pandemic assistance and Inflation Reduction Act allocations to USDA.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus have been demanding to cut spending to FY22 levels without relying on rescissions. 

The delay in considering the Agriculture spending bill put off potential fights over checkoff programs, U.S. sugar policy and other issues being targeted by many of the same lawmakers demanding deeper cuts. 

GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana is leading an effort to cut off funding to USDA to operate the fee-funded research and promotion programs, known as checkoffs

Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., filed a series of amendments attacking various aspects of the federal sugar program, which is regularly targeted during farm bill debates.

Other lawmakers filed amendments seeking to slash specific USDA programs to fiscal 2019 levels. 

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and other Republicans expressed frustration outside the House chamber with the Freedom Caucus members who were insisting more cuts in the Ag measure and other bills. 

“I just feel like these guys know how to shoot themselves in the foot. … What they want a lot of the conference won’t support. And so, this is a good example of perfection being the enemy of the good,” he said. 

Noah Wicks contributed to this report. 

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