September 11, 2013
Late on Tuesday, September 10, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft of its continuing appropriations resolution (CR) for the first two and a half months of fiscal year (FY) 2014. With few exceptions, the bill would fund programs until December 15 at the levels provided in the final FY 2013 CR.
Despite the House and Senate Appropriations Committees doing good work to pass stand-alone FY 2014 agriculture appropriations bills earlier this year, the bill released last night discards those bills and instead extends FY 2013 funding levels. See our blog post from March for a detailed account of those levels.
The proposed short-term CR assumes the continuation of the automatic across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. House Democratic and Senate opposition to these large and meat-ax style cuts leaves the House Republican caucus in a position of needing to pass the bill largely with their own votes, a matter of great difficulty because of the large block of House Republicans who want to use this same bill to “de-fund” the Affordable Care Act commonly referred to by the opposition as Obamacare. If a bill is not passed and signed into law before October 1 the government will start shutting down on that date.
The short-term CR includes a small handful of exceptions to the straightline extension across programs. For instance, the bill provides additional funds for the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior to help fight forest fires in the Western U.S. It also increases funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and makes an exception for customs and border patrol.
The short-term CR also contains language that would keep the SNAP (food stamp) program funded at current levels during the beginning of the new fiscal year. Sadly, it does not include similar extension language for the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program. As a result, those programs will have to be shut down for the first few months of the fiscal year unless a new farm bill happens to pass in the meantime.
Unfortunately, the funding bill once again includes an egregious anti-farmer rider that has come to be known as the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) rider. The rider would override the 2008 Farm Bill and deny poultry and livestock producers certain protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act. Like the final FY 2013 CR, the House bill would force USDA to rescind existing pieces of a final rule that it began to implement late in 2011 and that was actually approved for publication by appropriators in 2012. The bill would also prevent USDA from beginning to implement additional pieces of the contract-fairness rule.
The GIPSA rider language is disastrous for farmers and sets a terrible precedent for future appropriations bills. Despite opposition from over 140 agriculture, farmer, rural development, and other organizations, supporters of the rider in the House Committee made it quite clear this week that the interests of multinational meat packing corporations rise far above the well-being of poultry and livestock farmers.
The bill also includes a legislative rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of transgenic crops. Like the GIPSA rider, the biotech rider was included in the final FY 2013 CR. The bill permits USDA to deregulate genetically modified crops even in the case of a court ruling invalidating or vacating such a deregulation. This is a clear violation of the separation of powers and judicial review. Conventional (non-biotech) and organic farmers have suffered economic losses due to contamination from biotechnology products, and this policy rider likely makes that situation worse in the future.
The House is expected to vote on the 3-month CR next week before sending it to the Senate. Nothing dictates that the Senate must accept the GIPSA and biotech riders, though certainly there is intense pressure to get the bill finished and signed into law by September 30 to prevent a government shut down. Given the public outcry that the riders generated earlier this year, it is our sincere hope that the Senate sends the House, and the House adopts, a truly clean CR built for farmers, ranchers, and consumers rather than a few powerful corporate interests.