The House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee today voted by voice vote to approve its draft FY 2015 bill and report it to the full House Appropriations Committee. The full Committee is expected to consider this bill on Thursday, May 29, with the goal of having the bill on the House floor in early June. Chairman Aderholt’s formal opening statement can be accessed here. The Committee report is not yet available and will not be until full Committee consideration. The Committee’s summary of the bill and a link to the text of the bill can be found here.
Matters receiving the greatest attention during today’s session included providing USDA with the authority to waive requirements for compliance with school meal rules for those school food authorities that can demonstrate a net loss from operating a food service program for a period of at least 6 months, beginning July 1, 2013 (Section 739); inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC program (Section 738), and funding reductions proposed for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), in his opening statement, said that the subcommittees budget allocation is $20.88 billion for discretionary spending – the same amount as provided for FY 2014. The subcommittee received more than 3,900 requests from 326 Members regarding programs covered by the bill. Chairman Aderholt specifically raised his inclusion of the school food rule waiver, saying that the provision of this authority is in response to Secretary Vilsack having testified that USDA did not have the authority to grant the waivers called for in the report accompanying the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Ranking Subcommittee Member Farr (D-CA) described the measure as a “90-10 bill” in that he can support 90 percent, but has to swallow 10 percent. He specifically disagreed with the inclusion of the school meal rule waiver authority, saying schools would be allowed to opt out of complying with the rule but would be able to keep the extra six cents per meal provided under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. He also disagreed with the WIC provisions requiring white potatoes, and said the funding level for CFTC would wreck the agency and is very dangerous.
Full Committee Chairman Rogers (R-KY) said it is his intention to pass all bills individually, and that this is the earliest ever that appropriations bills are being considered thanks to last year’s budget agreement. His specific comments regarding the bill focused on the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, and he praised provisions in the bill calling on FDA to hasten the development of abuse deterrent formulations.
Full Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) focused her remarks on funding for international food aid and food safety. She said she is disappointed that the bill does not provide the new authority to use up to 25 percent ($350 million) of the P.L. 480 Title II appropriation in emergencies for interventions such as local or regional procurement of agricultural commodities near crises, food vouchers, or cash transfers requested by the Administration, nor does it provide the $80 million for local and regional food purchases authorized by the Farm Bill. She also expressed her disagreement with the WIC language regarding white potatoes, saying that the WIC standards have been based on scientific recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine. She also opposes language in the bill included as part of the funding for child nutrition programs that limits the summer feeding program to rural areas.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said that while she appreciates the challenges of putting together this bill based on her time as chairwoman of the subcommittee, she feels that she must oppose this bill because of concerns for protecting consumers. She specifically spoke about her belief that the funding level for the Food Safety and Inspection Service is below the FY 2014 amount, and is predicated on unproven and unsubstantiated savings from revisions in poultry inspection procedures. She argued that more funding should be provided to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), given that she knows the subcommittee will never authorize user fees and the work under FSMA is so important. She also raised concerns similar to those raised by others regarding funding for CFTC, school meal rule waivers, the WIC food package, and the summer food program. She said budgeting is about values and choices, and she disagrees with the choices being made in the bill.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) also raised her objections to the provisions regarding the waiver of school meal nutrition standards, and for language blocking the implementation of the GIPSA rule regarding the marketing of livestock and poultry.
In further discussion regarding the school meal rule waiver, Chairman Aderholt said that representations that the language included in the bill is in response to industry are mischaracterizations. He said that he has not talked to industry, but instead has heard this request from school lunch personnel in his area. If others disagree with the waiver, they do not need to apply for it. Congressman Farr responded that USDA has reported that 90 percent of school food authorities are in compliance with the new meal standards. USDA should partner with the others to help them achieve compliance. He dislikes the fact that there is no requirement that schools notify parents that they are seeking waivers from these rules, and believes that if there was such a requirement parents would object. Chairman Rogers also said that students are saying that they do not want the food that is being served, so they go elsewhere. In the end, the rules may be hurting more than helping improving the quality of foods consumed by students. Congresswoman DeLauro continued to argue that more time is needed for making these adjustments and that students will benefit from the fruits and vegetables being included.