Senate panel advances $20.5B bill to fund USDA, FDA

Senate panel advances $20.5B bill to fund USDA, FDA
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The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the next fiscal year.

Of the 12 annual spending bills, this is the 11th approved by the panel.

The bill contains $20.5 billion in discretionary funding, which is $65 million below the current level and $1.1 billion below President Obama’s request. The bulk of the measure contains $123.3 billion in mandatory funding.

“Despite their best efforts, the bill does fall short in meeting key areas in meeting agricultural and food safety needs of our country,” Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiBottom Line Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi to reclaim Speakership amid shutdown MORE (D-Md.) said.

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“Are we charging ahead with our constitutional responsibility or are we hurdling to an abyss where we’ll be in a black hole of confrontation showdown slam-down politics?” she asked.

Mikulski, the top Democrat on the panel, urged her colleagues to strike a new budget deal to lift sequestration spending ceilings before both chambers depart for their annual August recess. Congress must fund the government by Oct. 1.

During the markup, the committee adopted amendments that would relax school lunch rules on whole grain products and sodium, require the FDA to label genetically engineered salmon and direct the USDA to seek public comment on a proposed rule regarding captive marine mammals.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The border deal: What made it in, what got left out Lawmakers introduce bill to fund government, prevent shutdown MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee that crafted the measure, offered a Democratic alternative that would boost funding levels for both the USDA and FDA. Republicans blocked his amendment because it would have breached budget ceilings.

For the USDA, the bill would fund agricultural research, loan programs for farmers and ranchers, and the agency that evaluates food safety and inspects meat, poultry and egg products.

The bill contains funding for nutrition assistance for women, infants and children, as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for low-income people.

Democrats on the panel said the bill does not include funding increases for research on climate change, antibiotics or other areas.

They also said the bill does not provide requested funds for implementing the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, the oversight of drug compounding facilities or evaluating more over-the-counter sunscreens.