WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill for USDA and related agencies on a voice vote after lengthy debates about issues that were not about the core functions of the bill.
The bill totals $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million lower than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, but $4.64 billion higher than the president's budget request. The overall total USDA budget for both discretionary and mandatory programs is $144.9 billion.
It's unclear how Congress will handle agency appropriations, though, because the House Budget Committee has not completed its work in defining the parameters of the full federal budget for fiscal year 2018.
Democrats on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee praised the bill at the beginning of the full committee markup, a sign that House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., had included many of their requests.
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said he was pleased that the committee had rejected President Donald Trump's "draconian" cuts. Bishop said he was also pleased that the bill includes $25 million for the construction of school kitchens and that the bill provides funding for the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole international school feeding programs, even at reduced levels.
Trump's proposals to eliminate rural housing, business development and water and wastewater programs "would have proved disastrous," Bishop said. But House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said all the federal agencies are being shortchanged and that caps should be increased for both defense and non-defense spending.
Former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., thanked Aderholt and current committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., for including more money for the Food and Drug Administration to fight opioid abuse.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., also thanked Aderholt for a provision that will require Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to report to the committee on measures that the Food Safety and Inspection Service will take prior to allowing poultry raised and slaughtered in China to enter the United States, and for a provision that directs USDA to conduct a full review of Brazil's food safety equivalency determination.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, thanked Aderholt for a provision directing the Economic Research Service to conduct a study on the quantity and types of produce wasted on farms, barriers to recovering that produce, and new market opportunities to increase recovery and farmers' income.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., thanked Aderholt for including a provision directing USDA to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department, detailing responsibility on rural broadband issues.
Still, the committee also spent most of two and a half hours debating a series of amendments.
The committee adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., that enables legal migrant farm workers to utilize farm-labor housing built for domestic workers if there are vacancies. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote. â€¨
The committee also adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., to require robust cost-benefit analysis by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and provide clarification regarding inter-affiliate swap transactions. Each of those amendments was adopted on a voice vote.
The committee rejected by a recorded vote of 30 to 22 an amendment offered by Lowey that would have allowed the Food and Drug Administration to analyze and regulate tobacco vaping products more rigorously.
The funding bill also reopens the possibility of USDA-inspected domestic horse slaughter. The committee rejected by a vote of 27 to 25 an amendment offered by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., that would have continued blocking USDA from inspecting horses for horse meat production.
The debate on the horse inspection bill was particularly emotional, as Roybal-Allard said that horses are particularly unsuited for slaughter due to their long necks and that old horses can be "adopted by loving homes." Government policy should include birth control and adoption, she said. Republicans argued that the stoppage of horse inspection has led U.S. ranchers to send horses to Canada and Mexico, where the U.S. government does not control the standards in slaughterhouses.
Bishop said that even if the horses are slaughtered in Mexico and Canada, the U.S policy ought to be "if they are going to be slaughtered: not in our house, not in our country."
Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., also offered but then withdrew an amendment to limit non-recourse loans for sugar or sugar beets to $40 million in any crop year. Dent said the sugar program and the recent agreement with Mexico to limit sugar imports are hurting confectionary jobs due to higher sugar prices. Dent's district includes the Hershey candy company.
Looking at Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, whose state is a major beet sugar producer, Dent said, because Simpson was smiling, "No candy for you."
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who comes from another major beet-sugar-producing state, said, "Dent is a sweet guy, but this amendment leaves a sour taste in my mouth."
Aderholt noted that the proper place for consideration of his amendment would be the farm bill debate.
Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, lamented cuts to the Rural Energy for America program and other renewable energy programs in a colloquy with Aderholt, who said that despite those cuts in this year's bill, he wants to avoid cuts to the farm bill baseline.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport
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