Ag Policy Blog

House Funding Bill for USDA, FDA Has Become a Dumpster Fire

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The annual appropriations bill for USDA and FDA is usually considered fairly non-controversial. But efforts in the House to cut more spending while adding language over abortion and other social issues essentially halted the House from taking up the bill on the floor before going on a six-week break. (Image from social media GIF)

One of the most popular memes or GIFs on social media is the glorious dumpster fire.

And a dumpster fire floating away in a flood kind of encapsulates the annual appropriations bill for USDA and FDA, normally a bill that would typically be considered uncontroversial until House Republicans -- to use another internet meme -- declared, "Hold my beer."

The funding bill, which deals with a broad array of discretionary programs, was supposed to come up on the House floor this week before the House adjourned on a six-week break. Instead, it never came out of the House Rules Committee -- which sets the debate rules and amendments allowed on the House floor. Simply put, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wasn't going to get 218 votes for the bill.

The August recess combined with divisions among Republican House members are setting up the possibility of another government shutdown before the new federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Highlighting the different takes on spending bills, the House passed its Defense spending bill 219-210 on July 14 with just four Democratic votes because of a litany of social issues tied to the bill. The Senate on Thursday passed its Defense bill without those hot-button topics on an 86-11 vote.

In a similar situation on the USDA/FDA bill, the House version cleared the committee in June on a strictly party-line vote. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the USDA/FDA funding bill a week later in a unanimous 28-0 vote.

One of the key issues in the House bill has nothing to do with USDA, but GOP efforts to block FDA rules for the abortion drug mifepristone. Yet, there are enough moderate Republicans opposed to the FDA abortion language that the bill can't pass a floor vote. Removing the language would also cause more conservative Republicans to reject the bill. And there are so many other funding cuts and riders in the bill that GOP leaders will not get any Democratic votes for the bill either.

The White House also threatened to veto the House bill, H.R., 4368 and noted in its comments the funding levels were lower than those negotiated by House leaders earlier this summer in the budget deal over the debt limit.

The House Rules Committee held an initial hearing on the USDA/FDA bill on Wednesday but only heard about a handful of potential floor amendments before they closed the hearing for other floor votes. The committee never came back afterwards.

"Obviously you've seen reports the Ag Approps bill is still in the works because we've got members on both sides that aren't there yet," House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., told the news website Axios.

Democrats also have highlighted cuts to programs such the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, which would reduce benefits for as many as 5.3 million women, infants and children who would otherwise qualify for such aid.

At least some GOP members were further split because they wanted more cuts at USDA and FDA than were in the bill. The Freedom Caucus was championing those efforts. Others are balking at calls for more cuts.

"I think the cuts are gonna be devastating," Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, was quoted in the Washington Examiner. "I look at the export, and we do a tremendous amount of export in the Midwest. We're the breadbasket to the world, and this is a grave concern to me."

In the Washington Post, Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was asked about the House's inability to pass the USDA/FDA funding bill. He pointed to the push to try to cut another $2 billion in spending in the bill through amendments, "but the idea that you just have to go cut $2 billion more on the bill after (Republicans have) already cut them down to the levels that we were at has been hard for folks to get. Because as you cut here, you start to lose people on the other end for those programs important to them in their districts."

As of now, the Defense bill is the only one that has passed the House.

Barring an unusual event, the House right now is not scheduled to return until Sept. 12. House members would have 12 legislative days after that to fund the government, which could include a series of short-term extensions.

But members of the Freedom Caucus also said they don't want to support extensions, either.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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