NSAC's Blog

Senate Debate of Agriculture Appropriations Bills to Begin Next Week

May 13, 2016

This week, Congressional appropriators returned from their weeklong recess to pick up where they left off and continue finalizing funding bills for fiscal year (FY) 2017. While the House Appropriations Committee passed its agriculture appropriations bill on April 19, which included funding bills for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee had not taken up any bills before the recess.

The Senate Subcommittee is now set to take up its version of the FY 2017 agriculture appropriations bill on Tuesday, May 17; we expect the full Appropriations Committee to vote on the bill on Thursday. In advance of the Senate debate, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) delivered recommendations to Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee.

As Senate appropriators begin their funding debates next week, NSAC will continue to urge members of the Subcommittee and full Appropriations Committee to refrain from cutting funding for farm bill conservation programs, support civil rights protections for livestock and poultry farmers by not introducing a GIPSA Rider or similar amendment, and provide robust funding for sustainable agriculture research, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, food safety training, and rural development and credit programs.

Congress began its initial appropriations work for FY 2017 in February of this year, and has been moving at a relatively quick pace to get bills finalized. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have already passed a number of appropriations bills through Committee – and this week the full Senate passed the Energy and Water appropriations bill 90-8.

In addition to debating the agriculture appropriations bill at the Subcommittee and Committee level next week, the full Senate will consider a $1.1 billion supplemental funding package to help fight the Zika virus. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) negotiated the $1.1 billion figure, which is less than the Administration’s request, but more than Senate Republicans had initially offered. Following the Zika vote, the Senate is expected to take up a funding package for transportation and housing programs, military construction, and veterans’ affairs. There are indications that the agriculture appropriations bill and the commerce-justice-science appropriations bill may be combined into a single package and brought to the Senate floor within the next couple of weeks.

Worthy of note is the fact that Congress technically should pass a budget resolution before it begins drafting and passing appropriations bills. However, due to pushback from the House Freedom Caucus, which is made up of the most fiscally conservative members of the Republican Party who do not support previously agreed-to spending levels, there is very little chance that a House budget will be finalized this year. The Senate is also unlikely to pass a budget this year.

Despite the unlikelihood of a budget resolution coming to the floor for a vote, the Senate has already begun to pass appropriations bills using a previously agreed-to spending cap to guide funding decisions. In the House, though, many Freedom Caucus Members oppose the idea of moving appropriations bills without first passing a budget resolution. Budget rules in the House do contain a safety valve, however, which allows appropriations bills to come to the House floor even in the absence of a budget, if no budget has been passed by May 15. Under these rules, the House could begin consideration of individual appropriations bills as early as next week. In the coming days, House leadership will be determining whether or not they have the votes to pass individual spending bills without having first passed a budget.

Stay tuned early next week for our analysis of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill for FY 2017, and of the debate that follows on Tuesday and Thursday.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations

Comments are closed.