Senate Ag appropriators move bill, reject Obama food aid reforms

The Senate on Tuesday took its first step in moving 2014 spending bills by reporting out a $20.93 billion agriculture measure from a subcommittee to the full Appropriations Committee.

The bill is an increase of $420 million above 2013 and $1.4 billion above the bill already approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

The Senate is assuming it its bill that automatic sequestration cuts are not in effect in 2014, while the House is moving bills that turn off defense cuts and deepen domestic cuts.

Subcommittee Chairman Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE’s (D-Ark.) bill rejects a proposal by President Obama to give the administration greater flexibility when purchasing food for international food aid. Obama wants to reduce the purchases of U.S. farm goods and allow the U.S. Agency for International Development to buy food abroad. 

Critics of the current program say it is too costly and drives local Third World farmers out of business by dumping U.S. commodities abroad. Supporters say it is a vital support for U.S. agriculture and removing the link to farm communities here will only further weaken public support for foreign aid, which is already among the least popular spending items in the budget.

Ranking member Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff MORE (R-Mo.) said he was pleased that the “core integrity” of the existing food for peace program had been preserved. 

He said he looked forward to moving the bill to the full Senate but did not say how he would vote for it in full committee. 

Pryor told reporters he does not know if Republicans on the full committee will be voting against the bill and other Democratic spending measure which are based on the level higher than the sequester. That will become clear on Thursday when the full committee votes on the agriculture measure and one funding military construction and veterans affairs. 

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The chairman said that he was “proud” that the bill has “robust” funding for Women Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition of $7 billion. Democrats say cuts in the House bill, which cuts $215 million from WIC, will result in hundreds of thousands of people being denied needed food. 

“There is a real need out there. This is not money that is a solution in search of a problem,” Pryor said.

He said he had to make difficult choices such as providing only modest increases to agricultural research in the bill in order to be mindful of the pre-sequester budget cap put in place in 2011. He also said he would have like to have greater funding for the Food and Drug Administration.

Food inspectors receive a modest $7 million cut out of a $1.1 billion budget, an Pryor said he was “confident” that inspections will not be cut as a result of the savings. 

During the brief markup, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (R-Maine) and John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenBottom Line The Hill's Morning Report — Schiff: Clear evidence of a quid pro quo Trump steps up GOP charm offensive as impeachment looms MORE (R-N.D.) said that they remain disappointed that the WIC program does not allow purchases of white potato products and that they will seek an amendment to force the program to do so. The full House Appropriations Committee adopted its own potato amendment last week to its $19.5 billion bill.