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View from the Hill Blog: From Salmon to Subsidies: 2012 Ag Bill

By Grace Boatright, View from the Hill National Grange Legislative Blog (6/17/11)

  JUNE 18, 2011 --

Yesterday, the House approved and passed the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012, also known as the FY 12 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The bill, which funds the Department of Agriculture and all its related agencies, passed the House with a vote of 217-203. When all was said and done, the bill totals $125.5 billion in discretionary spending and mandatory funding, and in tune with Republican’s goal of cutting spending, is $7 billion less than the President’s request. Nineteen Republicans voted against the bill, including Ron Paul (TX), Justin Amash (MI), Walter Jones (NC) and Jeff Flake (AZ). Representative Flake made a gutsy move yesterday when he offered an amendment to strip funding for MAP, the Market Access Program, which carries an investment return of $35 for every dollar spent. However, the amendment was strongly opposed by several in the House including Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas.

While I was pleased to see it pass the House, and without Flake’s amendment, there were some items included, and not included, that I find disappointing and bizarre. Let’s begin with the disappointing. Although the bill cuts discretionary spending by $2.7 billion compared to last year’s amount, it also increases non-discretionary spending by $3 billion. The press release issued by the House yesterday failed to mention that part (shocker). So Republicans can claim that they cut spending compared to Obama’s request, but in the end that’s not entirely the case.

The bizarre, but not necessarily bad, attributes to the bill include salmon, abortion pills, breastfeeding, and school lunches. As ordained by the bill, the FDA will be prevented from approving genetically engineered salmon. The FDA was set to reach a decision on this controversial issue, which would have been the first time the government approved genetically-modified animals for human consumption. Another amendment to the bill blocks any funding for mifepristone (RU-486), also known as the abortion pill. The bill also did away with the USDA’s new school-lunch standards, which included eliminating junk food in school vending machines. The USDA will now have to re-write their rules and hope for better things down the road. One such thing might be First Lady Michelle Obama’s new “Plate Program,” which replaces the food pyramid with a well-balanced meal, or “plate,” to include protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Last on the list of the bizarre, the bill assigns very specific budget requirements to the WIC Peer Counseling Program, a program that encourages and assists the underprivileged in breastfeeding their children. The text of the bill states; “not less than $75,000,000 shall be used for breastfeeding peer counselors and other related activities, and not less than $7,500,000 shall be used for breastfeeding performance awards.”

However, programs like MAP and FMD, Foreign Market Development, remain fully funded from last year’s levels; MAP at $200 million and FMD at $34.5 million. Farming subsidies also were left alone, and farmers making over $250,000 will still be eligible for such subsidies. The House is by no means the bill’s final destination; however, and the Senate is scheduled to take up the matter in July. We’ll have to wait and see what weird and wonderful things the Senate will come up with.

- Grace Boatright
National Grange Programs Assistant

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