House panel approves agriculture, energy spending bills

House panel approves agriculture, energy spending bills
© Anne Wernikoff

The House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to approve bills to fund the Agriculture and Energy departments and the Army Corps of Engineers.

In an all-day markup, the panel considered numerous amendments to both the agriculture and the energy and water bills, eventually passing both on voice votes.

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The agriculture bill, at $147.7 billion, had bipartisan support, although the Democrats tried — with mixed results — to change several provisions regarding Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, food stamps and other policies.

The $37.4 billion energy and water spending bill had fewer amendment votes, although the partisan rancor reached a higher pitch amid debates over California’s drought and the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.

Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHouse advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Maryland raises legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the agriculture subcommittee, said the panel’s bill “focuses investments in programs that bolster U.S. agriculture, support rural communities, maintain food and drug safety and ensure sound markets and provide nutrition for children, families and seniors at home as well as abroad.

It “also targets funding to national programs that have the most benefit to the American people and the U.S. economy, while at the same time, it reduces inefficient, wasteful and low-priority programs and agencies,” Aderholt said.

The most controversy on the agriculture bill came in response to provisions regarding tobacco regulation, particularly as it applies to electronic cigarettes and specialty cigars, and the Obama administration’s policies.

The panel approved a measure from Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) to mandate that the FDA put e-cigarettes under an easier approval process than the administration wants to use.

The committee voted against amendments from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to allow regulations on specialty and flavored cigars and compounding pharmacies.

It rejected Democrats’ pleas to provide the Obama administration the $1.9 billion it requested to fight the Zika virus, and approved amendments regarding food stamp eligibility for retailers and rules for raising chickens.

On the energy and water bill, the panel did not approve any amendments.

“This is a responsible bill, one that corrects a number of budget gimmicks used by the administration to get around the discretionary budget caps,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of that subcommittee.

“This bill rejects the budget request proposal to reduce investments in the energy sources that we rely on today,” he continued, explaining decisions to take money away from renewable energy and efficiency programs and put it into fossil fuel research and development. “Within energy programs, the recommendation rebalances the portfolio to provide a true all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

The Democrats tried and failed to get two amendments passed.

One would have stricken all of the policy riders in the bill, which are on California’s drought, blocking the Clean Water Rule and allowing guns on Army Corps of Engineers land. The other would provide millions of dollars in emergency funding for Flint.

“This is a man-made crisis, caused by so-called cost-saving measures, delayed response and outright lies that have endangered families and children. And this is a public health crisis,” said DeLauro.

“We have the opportunity to invest in the children of Flint and right some of the wrongs inflicted upon the community.”

Republicans said the amendment is not germane, because none of the agencies involved in the request are in the bill.

“Everybody in this room shares the concerns about the health and well-being of the people of Flint, and want to see the problems there addressed and addressed effectively,” said Simpson. “Where you want to spend money is not a part of this bill.”

Simpson suggested that DeLauro and other Democrats bring up their request when the panel considers the funding bill for the Environmental Protection Agency.