July 8, 2015
On Wednesday, July 8, the House Appropriations Committee passed the 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which funds most of the programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
You can visit our previous post for a full breakdown of the bill as it stood before debate by the full Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. Most of the bill has remained unchanged since it was released last month.
We are pleased to report that no attempt was made to insert language to prohibit USDA from protecting fair competition and contracting in the livestock and poultry industry. In previous years, the appropriations bills have included what has become known as the “GIPSA rider” to undermine USDA ability to protect farmers in their dealings with meatpackers and poultry integrators. This year’s House bill is free of any such riders.
Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) offered an amendment to protect long-standing farm subsidy limits. The Fortenberry amendment would have struck a payment loophole established by the bill. The bill authorizes a form of commodity subsidy that Congress explicitly rejected in both the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills and directs USDA to provide these benefits without applying the payment limit. It will benefit a small handful of the biggest farms in the country at a cost of $52 million. NSAC supported the amendment, which was also endorsed during debate by Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) offered an amendment to ensure a fiscally responsible farm safety net by preventing annual crop insurance premium subsidies for farmers whose adjusted gross annual income exceeds $750,000 ($1.5 million for most married couples). The savings from the amendment would have been redirected to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which the underlying bill cuts by $300 million. The Pingree amendment failed by voice vote.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment to increase the transparency of the crop insurance program, and make crop insurance disclosure requirements consistent with requirements for commodity subsidies, disaster payments, and conservation payments. Currently, taxpayers are prohibited from knowing which farmers receive federal subsidies to cover their crop insurance premiums, despite this information being available for other subsidies. As with the Fortenberry and Pingree amendments, the DeLauro amendment failed by voice vote.
Much of today’s debate dealt with policy riders that prevent the Administration from regulating cigars and e-cigarettes, school nutrition, and dietary guidelines. No changes were made to the riders included in the bill as reported out of Subcommittee.
Visit our previous post for more information on the conservation and energy program cuts, research, rural development and credit program funding, and policy riders contained in the House bill.
It is likely the bill will now go to the full House for consideration, though there is also a strong possibility that the House Majority will choose instead to hold the bill and wrap it into a bigger appropriations package later in the summer or fall.
We expect the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to release and debate their version of the 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Bill next week. We will be urging the Senate Subcommittee to exclude the conservation cuts and the conservation compliance loophole included in the House bill. We will also be urging the Senate to include higher funding levels for the Value-Added Producer Grants program, Outreach and Technical Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers program, and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
Once the Senate Subcommittee passes its bill, the bill will go to the full Senate Appropriations Committee before being reported to the full Senate. Both the President and Democrats in the Senate have vowed to oppose spending bills this year so long as the bills conform to the unrealistically low spending caps established in the 2011 Budget Control Act. If the Republican Majority refuses to negotiate the overall spending caps with Democrats and the President, the end result of the 2016 appropriations cycle may be a “continuing resolution,” which is a simple extension of last year’s spending levels and policy riders.
We are hopeful that Congress can work toward a negotiated deal and do its work to pass spending bills for fiscal year 2016 that become law.