WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013 – The Senate approved today, with a 73-26 vote, a continuing resolution (S. 933) that would avoid tentative furloughs of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) meat inspectors as part of a larger package extending federal department funding through fiscal year 2013.
The amended bill now returns to the House, which is expected to consider it on Thursday. President Obama would have to sign the bill into law by March 27 to avoid a shutdown of the federal government.
“Working across the aisle and across the dome, the Senate has come together to prevent a government shutdown,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. “I am so proud the Senate bill protects national security while meeting compelling human needs.”
The legislation received the support of 51 Democratic senators, 20 Republican senators, and two Independent senators.
Voting “no” were 24 Republican senators and one Democrat – Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., did not vote.
The bill includes an amendment, offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., 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.
The amendment, approved by voice vote, would grant the USDA flexibility to transfer $55 million in existing agriculture funds to FSIS in order to ensure food inspectors are not furloughed.
Under sequestration, the USDA and other federal departments are required to make funding cuts of between 5 percent and 8 percent in a “line-item” matter with no ability to shift cuts between programs.
The bill would move one-time funding for school equipment grants and defer maintenance on buildings and facilities at USDA.
“By solving this funding gap, we’ve been able to protect private sector jobs, keep food prices affordable, and help nearly 40,000 employees in my state alone,” Pryor said.
Blunt said he was “very pleased the Senate unanimously passed this important amendment, which will help protect every family from paying higher food costs, and ensure hardworking Americans who make a living at these food inspection facilities don’t see their wages cut.”
It has been estimated that the USDA projected food inspector furloughs would have closed nearly 6,300 food inspection facilities across America. As a result, over 500,000 industry workers would have lost nearly $400 million in wages.
The underlying bill would provide $20.5 billion in fiscal 2013 for agriculture, rural development, the FDA and related agencies, according to a summary released by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The summary said those agencies received nearly $19.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30.
In addition, the Senate bill would fund implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act with an additional $12.8 million not included in the House bill.
The bill also aims to improve access to clean water in rural communities with an additional $250 million not included in the House bill.
Further, the Senate rejected an amendment, with a 40-59 vote, from Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., that would have transferred $60 million in funding for military biofuels testing to increase Defense Department operations and maintenance funding.
“It’s very disappointing that a number of my colleagues would rather spend taxpayer dollars on more wasteful biofuel subsidies than support essential maintenance operations for our military,” Toomey said.
The Truman Project applauded the vote on Toomey’s amendment.
Mike Breen, executive director of the Truman Project, said, “I was disappointed to see that Sen. Toomey chose to put our national security at risk by allowing politics to dictate military strategy. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the Senate once again supported the Department of Defense’s advanced biofuels programs.”
Tester likely voted against the bill because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not allow votes on two of his amendments that sought to strike two provisions from the bill.
Tester said one provision would give large meatpacking corporations more power over the livestock market, while the other would require USDA to ignore any judicial rulings that block the planting of genetically engineered crops that the courts determine to be illegal.
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