Senate Starts Ag Funding Debate

Image: dimamorgan12/iStock/Thinkstock

(DTN) The Senate began debate Wednesday on the Agriculture appropriations bill to fund the government for fiscal year 2015, while the House version of the bill languishes until after the election of a new House majority leader.

It is unclear how long the Senate debate will last because the Agriculture bill has been packaged with two other appropriations measures in what is being referred to as a "minibus" as opposed to the omnibus bills that sometimes fund the government when Congress doesn't pass individual appropriations bills.

The appropriations bill, which will cost about $20 billion, is important because it funds the Agriculture Department's food safety, research, rural development and some conservation programs. But basic programs such as farm subsidies, crop insurance and food stamps are mandatory spending and are not affected by the bill, although the appropriators have limited some conservation programs to pay for other priorities.

The Office of Management and Budget issued a statement of administration policy on the Senate bill that was generally supportive of the Agriculture bill, but includes criticisms of some of the provisions.

In its statement, OMB said the Obama administration said it "appreciates the bill's continued support for science-based nutrition standards for children" and would oppose any language that would "override science-based standards."

That is a reference to the Senate bill's provision calling for more flexibility on grains and sodium and the House bill's provision requiring the Agriculture Department to grant a waiver from healthier meal standards to any school that says it has been losing money in its school meals program for six months.

The White House also supports a provision calling for inclusion of white potatoes in the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) pending a scientific review. That provision is "intended to preserve the science-based review process used to determine which foods should be included in the WIC food package."

The White House also said it "is disappointed" by language that prevents closure of Farm Service Agency offices.

Meanwhile, the House has stopped action on its fiscal year 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill. The House considered some amendments last week, but did not consider an amendment to strike the provision that would require the Agriculture Department to grant waivers from school meal content rules.

After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., lost his primary and an election for a new House majority leader was scheduled, the bill was dropped from the calendar.

A senior GOP aide told DTN last week that the Ag bill would be brought up after the election, probably the week of June 23, but this week said it is possible "we will see a reshuffling of bills given a new leadership make-up. ... There will be new people running the floor and new people counting votes. As it is likely to be almost wholesale staff changes, it will take time for these two to learn their new jobs -- and how to work with one another," the aide said.

© 2014 Rural Radio Network. All rights reserved. Republishing, rebroadcasting, rewriting, redistributing prohibited. Copyright Information