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Ag appropriations bill moves to House floor

The fiscal year 2012 Agriculture appropriations bill is expected to come to the House floor today under an open rule that will allow debate on amendments that would cut farm subsidies but might also deal with cuts to nutrition programs that liberals say would lead to increased hunger.

The House Rules Committee granted the bill an open rule Monday evening, DTN reported. The rule would allow amendments and points of order against provisions in the bill that would cut farm subsidies, but that members of the House Agriculture Committee consider violations of House procedure because they amount to changing authorizing legislation on a spending bill.

House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., noted the bill cuts nearly $2.7 billion from discretionary programs, about 13 percent below 2011, but will still cost more overall due to increased costs of food stamps and school meals. The entire bill is expected to cost $125 billion, with nutrition programs making up more than 70 percent of the cost.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., asked the Rules committee not to protect the provisions that would affect farm subsidies from a point of order and, in a separate letter, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told the Rules committee that the bill should not cut mandatory programs.

The White House Office of Management and Budget statement of administration policy on the bill was subtle. It did not threaten a veto, but said the administration has serious concerns about a number of provisions and “looks forward to working with the Congress as the fiscal year 2012 appropriations process moves forward to ensure the administration can support enactment of the legislation.”

The statement reflected the administration’s proposals to limit subsidies to wealthy farmers and its commitment to trade. The statement did not criticize amendments sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that would impose stricter limits on the incomes of farmers who get subsidies or use cotton subsidy money to make the $147 million payment to the Brazilian Cotton Institute to settle the cotton case that the United States lost in the World Trade Organization.

But it did object to an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., that would use the money for Brazil to shore up the special nutrition for women, infants and children known as WIC.

“The bill’s provision preempts the resolution process and would open the door to retaliation negatively affecting U.S. exports and interests,” the administration said.

The statement said that, while budget negotiations continue, funding limits and allocations remain unclear, but that the bill “provides insufficient funding for a number of programs in a way that undermines core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation.”

The administration specifically objected to funding levels for:
  • The special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and for food banks.
  • USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on the grounds that a cut will significantly hamper USDA’s ability to inspect food processing plants and prevent food borne illnesses and disease such as E. coli and salmonella and led to inspector furloughs.
  • The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which would be zeroed out.
  • Agricultural research, which would be reduced to its lowest level since 2004.
  • The Food and Drug Administration on the grounds that it would require staff reducations and severely limit the FDA’s ability to protect the public’s health, assure the American consumer that food and medical products are safe, and improve Americans’ access to safe and less costly generic drugs and biologics.
  • The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) because it would undermine the CFTC’s ability to police the futures and swaps marketplace and curtail the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
  • International food aid for emergencies and disasters around the world.

The administration also objected to a provision that would prevent USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing a rule on conduct that would violate the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 and others to undermine or nullify FDA statutory standards.

The administration also said it opposed the “inclusion of ideological and political provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation.”

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif. and Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and George Miller, D-Calif., planned a morning news conference to “discuss the reckless cuts” in nutrition programs in the bill, they said in a news release.

Feeding America and 46 other partner hunger relief, faith based and advocacy organizations also sent a letter to Congress Monday that the bill’s cuts in nutrition programs would eliminate federal food assistance for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.