House lawmakers OK plan to cut ag programs by 5%

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017

House appropriators today approved a spending plan that would cut agriculture programs by about 5 percent in fiscal 2018 but avert the deeper reductions the Trump administration sought.

The Appropriations Committee approved the $144.9 billion measure on a voice vote with no objections, and Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said he expects the measure will advance to the House floor rather than await a broader omnibus spending deal later in the year.

Full Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said he was pleased the committee found savings where possible while funding critical programs.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, said she regretted the spending reductions and complained about a policy rider that would ease the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of e-cigarettes; she lost an effort to strip that provision.

Discretionary spending would total $20 billion, or $876 million less than in 2017. Together with mandatory spending, the bill’s total cost of $144.9 billion is $8.6 billion less than spending for 2017.

The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Lawmakers rejected the administration’s moves to cut spending on conservation, research and crop insurance. Specifically, the bill would restore funding for 17 Department of Agriculture research centers the administration proposed to close.

The committee approved, on a voice vote, a manager’s amendment that would double funding, to $10 million, for watershed rehabilitation in states with high-hazard dams and other facilities, where floods have recently caused fatalities — a provision aimed at West Virginia, said Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.).

West Virginia suffered severe floods last year that killed more than 20 people and damaged water utility services.

Other provisions in the manager’s amendment would boost funding by $1 million for improving access to healthy food in low-income areas; direct a study by USDA on food waste on farms; encourage a study by USDA scientists on voluntary nutrient runoff reduction programs; and request assurances from USDA on the safety of poultry imported from China, before the agency finalizes regulations allowing such imports.

The slaughter of horses, a topic the committee grapples with annually, resurfaced. Lawmakers rejected, 25-27, an amendment by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) to bar the use of funds to inspect horses for purpose of slaughter.

Horses aren’t slaughtered for meat in the United States, but some animals are exported for that purpose, and opponents of the measure said her amendment would only limit the United States’ ability to ensure more humane methods, including influencing other countries.

“It doesn’t stop the slaughter of horses,” Aderholt said, adding that a more humane process would result if Congress would “allow the USDA to do its job.”

The committee also rejected, on a 22-30 vote, Lowey’s amendment to strike a provision on FDA product standards for e-cigarettes. Lowey said the provision doesn’t go far enough in discouraging use of the tobacco products by teenagers, and that it gives the tobacco industry too much freedom to market flavorful vapor cigarettes to youths.

“Whose side are you on?” Lowey asked. “There is no middle ground.”

Aderholt said the bill as written would encourage people to pick safer vapor products rather than to smoke. And the Agriculture Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia, sided against Lowey, noting the “vape” industry in his state and his belief that the products can help people quit smoking.

In addition, the committee approved the following amendments:

  • A provision by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) to ensure that farm labor housing built with USDA loans may be occupied by U.S. workers as well as immigrant workers, on a voice vote.
  • A provision by Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) to require cost-benefit analyses of regulations proposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and to exempt certain transactions between affiliates regulated by the CFTC from swap rules — which were already included in a CFTC reauthorization bill passed by the House.

Some members of the committee have opposed cuts to rural renewable energy programs, including the Rural Energy for America Program, which would be slashed deeply even though lawmakers rejected a Trump administration proposal to eliminate it.

Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) pressed Aderholt on the issue, and Aderholt said he doesn’t intend the reduction to affect the program’s baseline for the 2018 farm bill.