Hardline conservatives in the House who tested their fellow Republicans’ appetite for spending cuts finally went too far.

The fiscal 2024 spending bill for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission failed 191-237 after 27 Republicans joined Democrats in opposing it. It was the only one of four FY24 spending bills to be defeated in voting late Thursday night. 

The Ag bill, usually one of the least controversial of the annual appropriations measures, was already in trouble with some swing-district Republicans because of a provision limiting access to the abortion drug mifepristone before GOP leaders added an additional, across-the-board 14% cut in the bill’s spending level, plus a $1.2 billion reduction in the Food for Peace Program. 

In addition to spending cuts, the bill includes $7.5 billion in rescissions of pandemic assistance and Inflation Reduction Act allocations to USDA. Without those rescissions, which are unlikely to materialize, the FY24 bill’s total funding level would be reduced to what was allocated for the agencies in 2001, according to Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. 

In a statement to Agri-Pulse, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill would have effectively slashed USDA's budget by 18% in FY24.

"With such a cut USDA would have no choice but to reduce staff and services at county Farm Service offices, to limit the conservation work sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to slash our contributions and purchase of U.S. grown commodities to humanitarian food assistance, and curtail agricultural trade missions and trade promotion.

"The end result would leave less income for farmers, ranchers, and producers. At the same time, the budget would have underfunded WIC, leaving pregnant and postpartum women, babies, and young children without access to healthy and nutritious foods."

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The Republicans who voted against the bill included members of the House Agriculture Committee who represent heavily GOP districts. Among them: Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Randy Feenstra of Iowa and Tracey Mann of Kansas. 

Other House Ag Committee members who voted against the measure included Don Bacon of Nebraska, Lori Chavez-Deremer of Oregon, Monica de la Cruz of Texas, Brad Finstad of Minnesota, Max Miller of Ohio, Marc Molinaro of New York, Zach Nunn of Iowa and Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin. 

Four of the nine Republicans on the House Appropriations subcommittee that originally wrote the bill also abandoned the measure Thursday night: Ashley Hinson of Iowa, John Moolenaar of Michigan, Dan Newhouse of Washington, and David Valadao of California. 

Other rural Republicans who opposed the bill included Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa.

The bill includes new restrictions on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's ability to use the Commodity Credit Corporation account. 

During debate on the bill this week, the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Andy Harris, R-Md., said that Vilsack's plan to spend $2.5 billion from the CCC for trade promotion and food aid purchases further justified the restrictions on the CCC. 

"This bill will put an end to the habitual abuse of the CCC," Harris said. 

He said the $1.2 billion cut to Food for Peace was intended to offset the $1.1 billion in CCC purchases of food aid that Vilsack plans. 

The Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program was exempted from the 14% across-the-board cut, but the bill had already frozen the program at the FY23 level and reversed a bonus benefit for purchasing fruits and vegetables. 

Harris argued that the size of the government's budget deficits made it imperative for Congress to reduce spending. 

"This bill takes the same approach American families take every day. They simply have to do more with less under the Biden economy," he said. "American families decide every single day where to cut back spending to pay for what's most important for them." 

The top Democrat on the House Appropriations, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, said in a statement that the “disastrous Agriculture bill failed with strong bipartisan opposition. Republicans claim to be the party that supports rural communities, but they targeted them with some of their deepest cuts and attacked women’s health.”

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