Senate Appropriators Approve Ag Spending Measure for FY09

July 17, 2008 07:00 PM

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But FY09 spending bills tied up in energy and election-year hurdles

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a measure providing about $97.2 billion for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Fiscal Year 2009. The measure, approved on a unanimous 29-0 vote, provides around $20.4 billion in discretionary funds (11 percent more than FY08) and $76.8 billion in mandatory funding. USDA would receive about $18.4 billion of the discretionary funding.

The discretionary total is about $200 million less than the level approved by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on June 19.

The bill increases funding for nutritional assistance programs, including $6.8 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). That figure is $650 million above the president’s Fiscal 2009 budget request. “The funding levels contained in the bill will provide critical nutrition services” to 894,000 people who would not have received these services under the president’s budget, Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) said.

The bill contains more than $2 billion in funding for the FDA, an increase of nearly $325 million over Fiscal 2008 levels. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), the Agriculture Appropriation's subcommittee’s ranking member, called it “a balanced bill” that will protect the FDA, which is “our front line in food safety.”

Importantly, the bill would cut some of the funding levels that were set in the 2008 Farm Bill for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Grasslands Reserve Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. The bill would cut $285 million from EQIP, $15 million from the Grasslands Reserve Program and $11 million from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who also sits on the Appropriations Committee, was disappointed with the cuts. "With increased crop production and the natural disasters that happened throughout the Midwest, the need for conservation is now greater than ever," Harkin said in a statement. "To that end, it is encouraging that this measure supports myriad conservation efforts, but I am concerned about cuts, which were taken against some of the funding in the farm bill for conservation programs on working lands ... and against some of the farm bill's energy program funding that invests in renewable fuels.”

An approved amendment offered by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) would limit importation of livestock from Argentina because of concerns about foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). The amendment was adopted by voice vote. The issue has arisen because USDA is preparing, via a proposed rule, to declare the country’s southern Patagonia region free of the disease, which would exempt beef produced in that region from a blanket ban on imports of Argentine beef. There have been no FMD outbreaks in Patagonia since 1976. Critics say the country has had difficulty in dealing with the disease and that imports from any part of a country with a poor record of animal disease should be barred.

Currently, Argentine beef imports are not allowed unless the meat has been treated at extreme temperatures to destroy any harmful bacteria or organisms associated with the disease.

Another approved amendment, proposed by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho), would allow farmers to obtain licenses to travel to Cuba in order to attempt to sell that country agricultural products.

A similar amendment was included in the Senate’s Agriculture spending bill in each of the past five fiscal years, but never made it into law.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service would receive $974 million, or $22 million more than Bush requested.

Among its provisions is language exempting from agricultural quarantine and inspection user fees certain commercial trucks originating in the U.S. and going through Canada.

The bill would provide $43.4 billion for the Food Stamp Program.

The measure would provide $866.9 million for conservation operations related to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, $32 million more than fiscal 2008 and $72 million more than the president's budget request.

It would provide $1.1 billion for the Agricultural Research Service, about $97 million more than the president's request.

The bill also would provide:

* $155 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, $15 million more than the fiscal 2008 level. The president's fiscal 2009 budget request proposed terminating the program.
* $630 million for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, $94 million above the president's request.
* $1.2 billion for the PL-480 Food Program, same as the president's request.
* $100 million for the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program.
* $39 million for the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.
* $1.2 billion for the Farm Service Agency.
* $50 million for the Farm Credit Administration, an independent agency within the executive branch.

Comments: The House bill might not make it to a full committee markup, as partisan arguments over energy have threatened to derail the regular appropriations process in the House.
In the Senate, Sen. Byrd urged floor consideration of the USDA measure and the panel's other spending bills, but the congressional schedule in a presidential election year does not bode well for following Byrd's suggestion.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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