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House tackles agriculture budget funding levels

Budget talks continue while appropriations committee advance bill that does not cut as deep as President Trump proposed earlier this year.

Debate continues around the House budget resolution as House Republicans continue to try and hammer out a deal. According to reports, the current budget includes $200 billion in mandatory spending cuts over 10 years.

Congressman Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Budget Committee member, has said that he believes the budget could easily pass the Budget Committee, but the level of support among all House Republicans is still in question. Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., were able to reach an agreement on the agriculture budget which would allow an effective Farm Bill to be developed and passed.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal 2018 agricultural spending bill, which funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The measure includes money for agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, agricultural trade, financial marketplace oversight and nutrition programs.

President Donald Trump proposed deep cuts to agricultural programs, but in a major step for the House to put its stamp of approval on spending levels, it rejected the 21% cuts. The House version does still make cuts across the majority of programs, including farm loans, rural development, agricultural research and pest and disease control efforts.

The bill totals $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million lower than the fiscal 2017 enacted level and $4.64 billion above the President’s budget request.

Some provisions in the bill include providing $1.5 million to USDA and FDA to continue educating consumers on the safety of biotechnology, $1 million for providing access to healthy food in low-income areas, rejecting President Trump's proposal to close 17 agricultural facilities, and directing the USDA to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department on rural broadband expansion.

The bill provides funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program. The President’s proposal to zero out the public/private partnership that expands trade opportunities for U.S. products had brought many concerns.

The House also provides continued funding for the Food for Peace program as well as rural housing, business develop and water and wastewater programs, which were initially eliminated in the President’s proposal.

Other policy riders put requirements on Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and his oversight of different issues.

The bill includes a provision that will require Perdue to report to the committee on steps the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service will take prior to finalizing a rule allowing poultry raised and slaughtered in China to enter the U.S. Another provision directs USDA to conduct a full review of Brazil’s food safety equivalency determination. There is also strong language to ensure that USDA reports on investigations into allegations of fraud in the organic industry.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was able to include report language that directs USDA to complete a study on food waste at the farm level in hopes of identifying new market opportunities for farmers to recover food.

A $190 million-plus increase to the Farm Service Agency program that provides guaranteed loans to support farm operations that Pingree pushed for was also included in the final package.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., received unanimous support for his amendment to alleviate the shortage of farm labor housing by ensuring that legal H-2A workers are eligible to use housing provided by Section 514.

Horse slaughter once again came up during the appropriations process. The committee rejected by a 27-25 vote an amendment offered by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Cal.) to stop USDA from inspecting horses for horse meat production.

This bill is also largely free of riders that have delayed the implementation of key regulations in the past, such as the Farmer Fair Practices and Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices rules.

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