House passes omnibus appropriations bill |

House passes omnibus appropriations bill

USDA to stop enforcing COOL and revise labeling requirements

Following the passage of the omnibus appropriations bill including a repeal of country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that USDA would immediately stop enforcing the law and rewrite its regulations.

“The omnibus bill repealed the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for muscle cuts of beef and pork, and ground beef and pork,” Vilsack said. “Effective immediately, USDA is not enforcing the COOL requirements for muscle cut and ground beef and pork outlined in the January 2009 and May 2013 final rules.”

USDA will be amending the COOL regulations as expeditiously as possible to reflect the repeal of the beef and pork provisions, Vilsack said.

In addition, all imported and domestic meat will continue to be subject to rigorous inspections by USDA to ensure food safety, he added.

The World Trade Organization was supposed to meet today to certify Canada’s and Mexico’s right to retaliate over the law, but the United States intervened to stop the meeting, Politico reported.

The United States argued that the meeting was not supposed to take place because the WTO Ministerial is taking place in Nairobi, Politico said.

The House voted on Friday to pass the omnibus appropriations bill with a 316 to 113 vote.

The vote to approve the bill was split between 150 Republicans and 166 Democrats. Eighteen Democrats joined 95 Republicans in voting against the bill.

Later that same day the Senate passed a combined omnibus appropriations and tax extenders bill by a vote of 65 to 33.

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., noted in a summary of the legislation that it repeals parts of the country-of-origin meat labeling law known as COOL.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., urged approval of the bill, a $1.15 trillion package of all 12 annual appropriations bills that will fund government operations for fiscal year 2016 in accordance with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

Total funding for the Agriculture section of the bill is $141 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, $26 billion below the president’s budget request and $6.4 billion below the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

The discretionary funding portion of the bill totals $21.75 billion, $1.1 billion above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

There is also an additional $130 million for USDA projects in presidentially declared disaster areas.

Required mandatory spending in the bill, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, totals $119 billion.

For the Food and Drug Administration, the bill provides more than $2.7 billion in discretionary funding, $132 million over the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

“The bill fully funds the budget request for food safety ($104.5 million increase) to allow FDA to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act,” Cochran noted.

“In addition, the bill contains provisions dealing with menu labeling and liability concerns for food manufacturers as a result of the FDA’s announcement to phase out the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) in food products,” Cochran added.

For the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the bill includes $250 million, which Cochran noted is equal to the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

“I support the approval of the omnibus bill by the Senate,” Cochran said.

“This legislation is our best option to responsibly meet national security requirements, improve our country’s infrastructure and address other public needs. We’ve worked on a bipartisan basis to produce a bill that will make important investments to aid our economy and promote more effective and efficient government.”

“The Senate Committee on Appropriations worked diligently to approve 12 individual appropriations bills in a timely manner,” Cochran said. “It is unfortunate that the Senate did not consider those measures, but this omnibus bill builds on the Committee’s work and reflects many of the priorities of the Senate as expressed to us in the thousands of requests that we received.”

The omnibus legislation maintains total discretionary funding at the same estimated percentage of GDP as in 2015, which is the lowest percentage level in at least the last decade.

The legislation does not fund more than 95 new programs or initiatives proposed in President Barack Obama’s FY2016 budget request, in addition to consolidating or terminating dozens of programs throughout the budget, Cochran said. The measure also rescinds more than $5.5 billion in spending.

“The agreement includes language that repeals parts of the country-of-origin labeling law that were recently ruled discriminatory by the World Trade Organization, preventing more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs to the U.S. economy,” Mikulski said in an analysis.

The agreement includes a Senate provision that effectively prohibits horse slaughter in the U.S. during fiscal year 2016 by blocking funding for Agriculture Department inspectors to preside over domestic slaughter facilities in which horses are slaughtered, Mikulski added.

“Through hard-fought negotiations on this bill, Democrats were able to successfully block all new anti-environmental provisions, including language to block efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined,” Mikulski said.

But Cochran said in his bill summary, “The bill prohibits any changes to the definition of ‘fill material’ and ‘discharge of fill material’ for the purposes of the Clean Water Act. The bill continues the prohibition on the application of the Clean Water Act to certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.”

Mikulski also noted that Democrats negotiated successfully to keep out “language to block implementation of the president’s landmark clean power plan” and “multiple provisions aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act by substituting politics for science, including riders that affected the listing status of grey wolves, lesser prairie chicken and northern long-eared bat.”

On water and port resources, Mikulski said the bill:

▪ Provides $121 million for water resources studies, $24 million more than the administration’s request including allowing 10 new study starts pertaining to rivers and harbors, flood and storm damage reduction, shore protection and aquatic ecosystem restoration.

▪ Provides $1.86 billion for water resources projects that provide for improvements to navigation, flood risk management and for ecosystem restoration. This amount is $223 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted amount and $690 million more than the request. The bill allows six new construction starts.

▪ Provides $345 million for the construction, operation and maintenance of navigation, flood control and ecosystem restoration projects along the Mississippi River and its tributaries from Cairo, Ill., to the mouth of the Mississippi River. This amount is $43 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted amount and $120 million more than the fiscal year 2016 budget request.

▪ Provides $3.14 billion for operation and maintenance of water resources projects such as Baltimore Harbor, Mobile Harbor and other ports and flood control projects that are vital to the nation’s economy, security and public safety. That is $228 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted amount and $427 million more than the fiscal year 2016 request. The bill provides $1.25 billion for eligible activities that are reimbursed by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., all urged approval of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., praised the inclusion in the omnibus of a deal to lift the decades-old ban on exporting oil.

The bipartisan deal — which Heitkamp noted she helped negotiate — lifts the oil export ban includes a five-year retroactive extension of the Production Tax Credit through 2019, which supports wind energy, and a five year extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which supports solar energy.

The bill also includes a three-year extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports the development of outdoor recreation areas.

Politico reported that Congress will need to pass another short-term continuing resolution to fund the government after the current one expires tonight. That bill is expected to fund the government through December 22 in case any problems bog down the omnibus.

–The Hagstrom Report