Panel approves $19.5 billion agriculture spending measure

The bill was sent to the House floor on a voice vote.

Democrats opposed the bill because it reflects $91 billion in automatic cuts to the entire federal discretionary budget called for by the sequester-backed 2011 Budget Control Act. 

They said the bill will result in some 200,000 people losing domestic food assistance and 8 million people internationally going hungry.

Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) reiterated at the markup that he wants the sequester changed but “while we wait on the White House and budgeteers,” to come up with a grand bargain, spending bills must move forward. 

Ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said she hopes that Rogers and others are “urging” GOP leaders to start a budget conference that will reverse the sequester cuts.

The discretionary part of the measure governs the operating budgets of the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and discretionary spending such as on school lunches, international food aid and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.   

The committee has no power to alter $120 billion in farm subsidies and food stamp spending, which is governed by the multi-year farm bill. A version of the farm bill for the next five years is expected on the House floor this month.

The agriculture appropriations bill is the fourth of the 12 annual spending bills that the House Appropriations Committee has approved this year. The Senate is expected as early as next week to begin moving its own bills to a top-line $1.058 trillion level rather than the House's $967 billion level. Failure to resolve differences between the bodies by Oct. 1 could result in a government shutdown. 

The bill does not provide $120 million in funding for the CFTC that President Obama asked for to implement the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

During the markup, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) offered an amendment to provide the CFTC with funding, but it failed 22 to 26.

A Democratic amendment to replace two years of sequestration by lowering farm subsidies and raising taxes on the wealthy and oil companies also failed on party lines.

Republican Rep. John Culberson (Texas) succeeded in getting an amendment to the bill which would stop states from receiving any funding if they fail to properly implement nutrition programs. Democrats warned that the amendment would have far-reaching consequences resulting in massive defunding if even one person not eligible for food benefits received aid.

The panel accepted an amendment to prevent implementation of the controversial Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) rule. Supporters say the rule is designed to give new protections to small poultry and hog producers in their dealings with meat processors. Opponents say it is heavy-handed regulation that stifles the food.

The House farm bill ends the program and Rep. Steve Womack’s (R-Ark.) amendment, which passed 29 to 17, would defund any attempts to implement it, in case the farm bill is not enacted.

The committee also approved an amendment to force the WIC program to pay for purchases of fresh potatoes. Currently the program, following scientific reports, says potatoes are not nutritious enough to qualify.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) was supported by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) in winning approval of the potato amendment. DeLauro led the opposition.