The Obama Administration scored a victory this week on regulatory reform even as conversations continue concerning energy legislation, another key priority, and the appropriations process.
On Thursday, the Senate passed by a 60 to 39 vote a financial regulatory reform bill that has been pending for more than a year and caused significant partisan division.
The massive, 2,300-plus-page bill is intended to make changes that would prevent the type of economic meltdown experienced over the last two years. It expands federal regulations, lays out procedures for unwinding failing companies and creates new consumer protections. Like with most laws of its scope, the content of regulations made under the law’s authority will highly influence its ultimate impact.
In a demonstration of the partisan divide surrounding the bill, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who work together on many policy priorities, issued nearly opposite statements after the bill’s passage.
Lincoln said, “Today the Senate has approved historic legislation that will rein in the reckless Wall Street behavior that nearly destroyed our economy, hurting Arkansas small businesses and costing millions of Americans their jobs.”
By contrast, Chambliss said that while the legislation will provide “much needed” transparency, “the overreaching nature of this legislation goes far beyond evaluating the market place and policing it for abuse. I cannot support the vast regulatory intrusion and costs that our businesses and consumers will face once this becomes law.”
President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law next week.
Work continued this week to compile an energy bill that will be able to achieve the 60 votes needed to be approved by the Senate.
It appears that a compromise will require an energy bill with a carbon component; while some are greatly opposed to any regulation of greenhouse gases or establishment of a carbon market, others are opposed to energy legislation that does not include those aspects.
NAWG staff has been working with other agricultural groups to engage in policy discussions, particularly with regard to language from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that the groups hope will form the agriculture piece of any carbon-related proposal and with regards to a potential renewable electricity standard, also known as a renewable portfolio standard.
Just this week, the ag coalition has met with staff from the offices of Stabenow; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has recently offered a climate change bill; Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who also has an energy proposal; Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is a long-time agriculture supporter; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is expected to make the call on what ultimately is in or out of the bill.
Based on those conversations, a compromise proposal is expected as soon as next week for debate as soon as the week of July 26, though what will be in the proposal remains unclear.
Despite many other priorities taking center stage, Congress must complete the appropriations process by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of an agriculture spending bill, along with the military construction/veterans affairs bill and the homeland security bill, in a 17 to 12 vote.
The bill approved provided a slightly lower level of overall discretionary spending, $22.839 billion, than the version passed recently by the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee.
The Senate Committee provided an increase of nearly $48 million for USDA’s cornerstone research grant program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), slightly less than the House subcommittee, but still a healthy raise over the FY2010 level of $262.4 million.
The Senate Committee funded P.L. 480 Title II, the Food for Peace program, at $1.69 billion, the Administration’s request and the funding level of the House subcommittee, but did not provide the $57 million increase for the McGovern-Dole program as the House subcommittee did.
As with all recent agriculture appropriations bills, nutrition spending made up the majority of the measure passed, accounting for a total of $94.051 billion including mandatory funding. The bill funded the food stamp program, known as SNAP, the Women’s, Infants, Children (WIC) program and the school lunch and breakfast programs at around the same levels as the House Appropriations subcommittee.