WASHINGTON, June 28, 2017 - The House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture and energy subcommittees approved bills today that reject most of the cuts sought by President Trump.
The bill approved by the panel’s ag subcommittee would still cut discretionary spending at USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission by $876 million from fiscal 2017 levels. The $20 billion funding level was below what most subcommittee members would have liked, which prompted criticism of some specific cuts, but there also was an understanding that it could have been worse.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, thanked subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for “basically ignoring most of the cuts in the president’s budget. I appreciate that you’ve used reasonable numbers. I’m sorry that we have $876 million in cuts, but that’s a lot better” than the $4 billion reduction sought by the Trump Administration.
The bill preserves current funding levels for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program and provides $2.8 billion for agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, well above the levels sought by the administration.
The research funding “will not only ensure our nation has a stable and abundant food supply but also maintains our country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace,” Aderholt said Wednesday. He said he didn’t support the administration’s proposed closure of 17 research facilities, but rather directed USDA to “prioritize research activities” and reallocate funds from matured projects.
Aderholt also mentioned the bill’s “continued investment in ARS buildings and facilities consistent with the ARS’s Capital Investment Strategy.”
The bill includes $2.6 billion for rural development programs, including level funding of $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, a program Trump had targeted for elimination along with the Rural Business-Cooperative Service and single family housing loans.
Bishop said he was pleased to see $1.4 billion in Food for Peace grants and $185 million for the McGovern-Dole international school feeding programs in the bill, both of which had been zeroed out in the Trump budget proposal. But he also said he hoped “that we will be able to work to increase funding for both as we continue and go through this process.”
Bishop also criticized the lack of a budget resolution providing a “full list of subcommittee allocations.”
“Marking up just one bill at a time without a full list of allocations leaves us effectively working in the dark,” he said.
Both Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the full committee, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., however, criticized the lower funding levels for both programs – $200 million less for Food for Peace and $16 million less for McGovern-Dole.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “said his motto was, ‘Do right and feed everyone,’ ” DeLauro said. “Do those people suffering in famine overseas not count toward that goal?”
DeLauro said she was pleased with language in the bill preventing USDA from purchasing Chinese processed chicken for school lunches and breakfasts, but said she was concerned about USDA’s move to allow imports of Chinese poultry products.
“China has repeatedly faced serious challenges with weakened enforcement of food safety laws and regulations, including problems specifically with poultry products,” she said, adding that the country is now dealing with what she called an “avian flu epidemic.”
“We have no ability to oversee” China’s processing facilities before the product is imported into the U.S., she said.
DeLauro also criticized the bill’s endorsement of USDA’s decision to put a hold on school nutrition standards that would have required more whole grains and lower sodium levels and prohibited the serving of 1 percent flavored milk.
She also said the bill underfunds FDA programs needed to ensure public health and safety. “We continue to add more responsibilities to their plate without increasing funding,” DeLauro said. “We cannot do more with less, we can only do less with less.”
The bill includes funding for Food Safety Modernization Act activities, including a provision funding “for USDA’s extension service to serve as the sole educator at the farm level on FSMA regulations instead of FDA officials,” Aderholt noted.
Pingree expressed gratitude that there was no attempt in the bill to halt or further delay the organic livestock rule or the Farmer Fair Practices Rule, also known as the “GIPSA rule” because it comes out of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. USDA announced in April it was delaying the effective date of the rule until Oct. 19.
Shortly after the action on the ag spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee’s energy and water subcommittee agreed on a bill to fund the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers and related agencies to the tune of $37.6 billion, $209 million less than last year’s level but $3.65 billion more than President Trump’s proposed budget.
“This recommendation includes strong funding for the Army Corps of Engineers – $120 million more than last year – and $1.2 billion more than the budget request,” subcommittee chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said.
Simpson said the bill “makes use of all annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Harbor maintenance activities are funded at $1.34 billion, which is $40 million more than fiscal year 2017, an increase of $375 million above the budget request, and the same” as the target in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
The bill also includes language exempting the EPA/Army Corps of Engineers proposal to rescind the Obama administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule from the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to accept and consider public comments. That drew criticism from the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who said that rider and others in the bill “complicate an already difficult process.”
Both bills now move to the full committee.
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