WASHINGTON, April 13, 2016 - The fiscal 2017 appropriations process takes a few steps further today as House subcommittees mark up the agriculture and energy and water spending bills and a Senate subcommittee considers its energy and water bill.

The House agriculture bill contains $21.3 billion in discretionary funding, a $451-million reduction from this year and $281 million less than what The Obama administration requested, but the House is proposing spending increases for energy and water.

Despite the overall cut for agriculture spending in the House bill, it would actually boost spending in select areas, including for FDA’s implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and for rural development programs at USDA.

A key provision in the House proposal for energy and water spending brings back a rider to block the WOTUS rule and also includes controversial provisions to help drought-stricken California farmers.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the energy-water spending bill will be on the Senate floor next week. Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture said the farm spending bill will be marked up by the end of the month.  For more details, please see Agri-Pulse’s weekly e-newsletter, out later today.

Roberts pessimistic on CFTC reauthorization. The Senate Agriculture Committee convenes Thursday to take up the long-delayed reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, but the Republican Chairman Pat Roberts is already pessimistic, reports Agri-Pulse’s Phil Brasher.

Roberts said that he and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the committee, are “paddling in different directions” right now. Stabenow said Monday the reauthorization bill would not be able to pass the Senate and Roberts responded: "It may not. We’re going to have a markup and we may get a couple of votes on the other side of the aisle, and we’ll see if the Senate in its infinite wisdom will continue the march, just as they have done with the GMO thing, or pardon me, agricultural biotechnology.”

Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Timothy Massad toldAgri-Pulse Tuesday that he isn’t prepared to take sides and is just hopeful progress can be made. “Let me just say on reauthorization, I’m pleased that the process is moving forward. I think it’s good. I’ll just have to wait and see where the committee lands and then we’ll go from there,” he said.

TPP battle heats up. The war of words over the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the centerpiece of trade policy in Barack Obama’s presidency - continues today with a teleconference hosted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. NCBA Vice President Kevin Kester is expected to cover the bases on why the 12-nation trade pact represents such a boon for exports of U.S. beef and other farm commodities and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will join him for the “Pass TPP Conference Call.”

It’s just another round in a battle that began this week with a letter sent to Congress on Monday from more than 200 farm groups and food companies that urged lawmakers to disregard the anti-trade pact rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail and ratify the deal that the American Farm Bureau Federation says will increase net farm income by $4.4 billion annually by reducing tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports.

On the other side of the battle are groups like Oxfam America and Public Citizen who, along with 48 others, signed on to a letter to Congress Tuesday to beseech lawmakers not to approve TPP. The pact, they said, provides far too much protection for large pharmaceutical companies, allowing them to keep prices high for medical drugs.

Moran and Ernst pen bill to cut taxes on ag students. Senators Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, want to take some of the tax burden off of young agriculture students. Together they introduced this week the Agriculture Students Earn Act (S. 2774) that would exclude the first $5,000 of gross agricultural income from being taxed by the IRS.

“For agriculture and our rural way of life to thrive, it is essential for a new generation of young people to return to rural America to live, work and raise their families,” Moran said. “Our policies, including the tax code, should encourage this goal by fostering student interest in pursuing a career in agriculture, and I’m proud to have Senator Ernst join me in introducing the Agriculture Students Earn Act.”

Conaway demands answers on EPA funds for advocacy campaign. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway is demanding answers from the EPA on its involvement in a campaign against water pollution that the Texas lawmaker says attacked farmers. The EPA, he said, entered into a $3 million cooperative agreement with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which ran a campaign against farmers and ranchers in Washington State with billboards and a website. “While this advocacy campaign is troubling, we are even more concerned that it appears to be part of a broader pattern of mismanagement of federal funds at EPA,” Conaway said.

He said it: "Have her campaign on that: I’m for more user fees for end users out there in farm country.” That was Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, expressing frustration with ranking member Debbie Stabenow over her insistence on imposing new user fees to increase funding for the CFTC. 


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