The Senate this week passed the agricultural appropriations bill by a vote of 80-17, setting the stage for a conference with the House of Representatives once Congress returns from its August recess.
The bill provides funding for discretionary programs in the Department of Agriculture, including funding for agricultural research and extension, nutrition assistance, the Foreign Market Development program (FMD), the Market Access Program (MAP) and food aid.
In floor proceedings the Senate waived a budget point of order to pass an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to provide an additional $350 million to purchase surplus dairy products. The budget point of order was raised because there were no offsets – new revenue or spending reductions elsewhere – to cover the $350 million expense. Accordingly, the money would be added to the federal deficit if the provision remains in the bill that emerges from the conference committee.
Overall, both House and Senate versions of the agriculture spending bill have significantly increased spending levels from 2008 and 2009, with major increases in both bills in the areas of food safety and domestic and international food and nutrition assistance, including PL-480, Title II, or Food for Peace.
The bill covers a number of important wheat industry research priorities through earmarks, and also provides funding toward salary increases in the Agricultural Research Service. An appropriation of $296.7 million is provided to fund the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) in USDA.
The Senate bill also includes $3.5 million to speed efforts to develop Ug99-resistant wheat varieties and $1 million for wheat genetic research at Kansas State University. NAWG and other grain industry allied organizations have strongly advocated for additional funding for Ug99 research.
NAWG and coalition partners have also been strong advocates for market development programs FMD and MAP, which are fully funded in the bill. These two programs are essential to the overseas market development work of U.S. Wheat Associates and USDA cooperators serving other commodity communities.
The extra dairy funding in the Senate bill and a disagreement over whether to allow imports of poultry products from China will likely be the most controversial items for the conference committee to address after recess. The House bill did not include the dairy funding, and it precluded the import of Chinese poultry while the Senate bill provides a path to opening this door.