Argentine ban in ag budget bill | TSLN.com

Argentine ban in ag budget bill

Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

DTN file photoA spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee boosts spending for government nutrition programs and agriculture research.

WASHINGTON (DTN) – The Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday approved a $20.345 billion Agriculture appropriations budget for fiscal 2009 that also included amendments to ban the importation of live animals and fresh meat from Argentina and would force the Treasury Department to grant general licenses to farmers to travel to Cuba to promote U.S. agriculture.

The committee approved the bill on a roll call vote of 29 to 0.

The bill covers discretionary funding for the Agriculture Department and provides the budget for the Food and Drug Administration, which is a division of the Health and Human Services Department, and the Farm Credit Administration. Unlike the House Agriculture appropriations bill, it does not provide money for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

Farm programs would take some cuts under the appropriations. To provide money for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and other priorities, Kohl and the subcommittee cut several conservation programs from the levels established under the 2008 farm bill, said Ferd Hoefner, a lobbyist for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, after the markup. The programs that endured cuts included the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, the Farmland Protection Program and the Conservation Reserve Program.

Kohl did not acknowledge the cuts to those programs at the markup session or in his news release, but said, “With many worthwhile programs in need – and federal funding scarce – we worked to strike a balance.” Hoefner said the WIC program should become an entitlement like food stamps so other programs do not have to be cut to maintain its caseload and funding.

The bill provides $6.75 billion for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, an increase of $1.13 billion above FY08 and $650 million above President Bush’s budget request. Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Robert Bennett, R-UT, said it is “disheartening” to raise the amount of money for the WIC program to maintain the same caseload, but it is necessary because the cost of infant formula and other foods has gone up.

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Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD, introduced the amendment on Argentina meat and livestock and said the United States should not bring in animals and fresh meat from Argentina as long as that country has foot and mouth disease in some areas. Bennett said he opposed the amendment because “it could cause problems” for the United States in trade relations. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-CO, noted the United States controls animal diseases on a regional basis. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE, noted the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture supports the amendment.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, introduced the Cuba amendment on behalf of Sen. Larry Craig, R-ID. Dorgan noted the committee had adopted the amendment in previous years and said it was important to signal opposition to the Bush administration’s regulations that make it difficult for U.S. agriculture to export products to Cuba even though it is legal.

The Senate bill’s level of funding is $200 million lower than the $20.6 billion fiscal year 2009 Agriculture appropriations bill that the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has approved. The FY08 Agriculture appropriations bill enacted spending level was $18.4 billion. President Bush asked for $18.7 billion for FY09.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., noted the bill ignored President Bush’s request that no money be spent on some rural housing and rural development programs and was not high enough to continue providing food to the same number of people under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. “I once again call on the President to reconsider his unwise veto threats,” Byrd said. “Now is not the time to cut or eliminate programs that invest in the growth of the nation and support nutritional assistance to Americans who are suffering from a shrinking economy.”

The bill provides $2.038 billion for the FDA, an increase of $324.6 million over the fiscal year 2008 level and $5.2 million above the president’s budget request. Bennett noted that it is the first FDA budget over $2 billion. The House bill provides $2 billion for the FDA.

The bill also provides:

– $155 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, $15.3 million above the fiscal year 2008 level. President Bush proposed to terminate the program, which provides food items to food banks and individuals around the country.

– $1.134 billion for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, an increase of $13 million over fiscal year 2008 and $97 million above the president’s request.

– $630 million for the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, an increase of $30 million over fiscal year 2008 and $94 million over the president’s request. The program provides an increase in formula funds for the land grant and historically black colleges and universities.

– $973 million for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, an increase of $43 million above fiscal year 2008 and $22 million above the budget request.

– $867 million for USDA conservation operations, $20 million for watershed rehabilitation, $30 million for watershed and flood prevention operations, $51 million for resource conservation and development programs and $2 million for the healthy forests reserve program. President Bush proposed terminating all those programs.

– $1 billion for rural housing rental assistance, $526 million above FY08 and similar to the president’s request.

The House Appropriations Committee has not considered the fiscal year 2009 Agriculture bill that the House subcommittee approved due to a dispute between the House Republicans and House Democrats over the Republicans’ plan to offer energy amendments on appropriations bills. Congressional leaders have said Congress is more likely to pass a continuing resolution to cover appropriations for most agencies for fiscal 2009. Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-MS, said Thursday even though it is unlikely the Agriculture appropriations bill and others will be enacted, “it is important that we carry out our responsibilities as a committee.”

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jerry.hagstrom@dtn.com