WASHINGTON, March 14, 2013 – Senate debate on a $982 billion spending package to fund federal departments, including the Agriculture Department, through fiscal year 2013 essentially stalled out today as lawmakers could not agree on how many amendments should be in order.

The Senate is set to resume debate on the bill (H.R. 933) on March 18, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. At least three agriculture-related amendments have been offered.

Reid said many amendments have been offered that are not relevant to the issue of avoiding a potential government shutdown set for March 27. For instance, five amendments have been offered in regards to U.S. funding for Egypt.

“If there’s a finite list of amendments, we would complete this work on this matter Monday,” Reid said. “If we don’t, then there’s not much choice we have except to vote on cloture on Monday. One way or the other, we’re going to move forward with this bill on Monday.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said 99 amendments have been offered to the bill.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced an amendment that aims to provide the administration with flexibility to ensure that “essential” federal employees, such as meat inspectors, are not subjected to the looming sequestration-related furloughs.

“We should do everything we can to protect Americans’ safety and private sector jobs, and this amendment will allow us to put the American people first,” Blunt said. “Government spending has grown 19 percent in four years and the federal debt has skyrocketed to more than $16.7 trillion. We can find ways to implement 2.4 percent in spending cuts without compromising private sector job creation or national security.”

The amendment would define “essential employees” as those that “perform work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, as determined by the head of the agency.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., offered two amendments that would strike provisions that were included in the bill by House lawmakers.

Tester said one provision would give large meatpacking corporations more power over the livestock market, while the other would require Agriculture Department to ignore any judicial rulings that block the planting of genetically engineered crops that the court determines to be illegal.  

“These provisions are giveaways worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country and deserve no place in this bill,” Tester said.

The House approved its continuing resolution on March 6, and a conference appears likely.

Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee approved its FY 2014 budget proposal late Thursday on a 12-10 party-line vote that aims to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion in 10 years and provide a long-term spending guideline for the Agriculture Department.

The proposed 114-page Foundation for Growth: Restoring the Promise of American Opportunity, offered by Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., relies on a mix of spending cuts and new revenue raised by “closing loopholes and ending wasteful spending in the tax code.”

In addition, the House Budget Committee approved its FY 2014 budget proposal late Wednesday on a party-line 22-17 vote.


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