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Senate passes $328 billion spending bill

Two days after the measure was stalled in a mostly symbolic show of force by Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans, the Senate on Jan 22 passed the government's $328 billion annual appropriations bill.

Earlier in the week, Senate Democrats had warned of roadblocks if language delaying country of origin labeling for two years was included in the government spending bill for the 2004 fiscal year. Other issues of contention by Senate Democrats included provisions relaxing both overtime rules for some white collar workers and the rules regarding media consolidation.

However, many of those voting against the bill changed their vote the second time around. Senators voted 65 to 28 in favor of the fiscal year 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Conference Report, which was going to the President for his signature.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was not among the majority in support of the spending bill because of provisions in the bill that would delay implementation of country-of-origin labeling, weaken limits on media concentration, and relax overtime rules for some jobs.

“On Tuesday, the Senate voted to delay consideration of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. At that time, I said that the Republican Majority should be given a few days to fix the most glaring problems — provisions that have already been rejected by both chambers of Congress but were inserted into the Omnibus in the dark of night by the Republican leadership,” he says. “These are problems that could easily have been fixed. The Majority chose not to do so, leaving us with policies that defy common sense, the will of the House and the Senate, and the wishes and best interests of the American people.”

Daschle says, “Let us be clear. The passage of the Omnibus in no way means that Democrats will give up on these essential fights. Democrats will spare no effort to make these changes this year. The Senate, on an overwhelming vote, supported the notion that America should have country-of-origin labeling for food products because it enhances food safety, promotes consumer confidence and consumer choice, supports American ranchers and farmers, and gives a much-needed boost to the rural economy. Yet the House, and some in the White House, insisted on a two-year delay. A two-year delay would kill country-of-origin labeling.”

Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., sees things a bit differently.

Applauding the bill's passage Frist says, “This funding will create jobs, spur the economy and encourage continued growth. From riverfront development and historic preservation to healthcare and education initiatives, this funding will contribute to the Delta region's economic growth and success.”

Daschle adds, “There was never a threat that the government would be shut down, despite what some of our Republican colleagues have said. Simply, we wanted to give our colleagues a chance to fix this legislation. They have chosen not to fix any of these issues. But we will be back. The Senate should never look the other way while a powerful minority overrides the will of the majority to reward one special interest after another.”

“I am appalled that this attack on country-of-origin food labeling law was not debated in public,” says Dave Frederickson, president of the National Farmers Union. “At the insistence of the Bush administration, congressional leadership slipped this delay into the comprehensive spending bill behind closed doors at the expense of consumers, American farmers and our trading relationships.”

However, Frederickson said this will not be the final push to implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling by the end of the year. “Farmers Union will be working with COOL supporters in Congress to make sure country-of-origin labeling shows up again in other must-pass legislative vehicles in 2004…U.S. farmers want COOL, 82 percent of American consumers request it, and the U.S. Senate directed conferees not to include the COOL delay in the omnibus spending bill…It is unfortunate that Congress and the administration would ultimately ignore the will of so many Americans to benefit a handful of companies.”

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