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McConnell may sidetrack USDA, other federal funding bills in Senate dispute

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a mammoth USDA-FDA funding bill on Wednesday that includes $7 billion in disaster funds for crop and livestock losses in 2020 and this year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a mammoth USDA-FDA funding bill on Wednesday that includes $7 billion in disaster funds for crop and livestock losses in 2020 and this year. Almost immediately after the 25-5 vote, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to sidetrack the USDA and other appropriations bills in a budget dispute with Democrats, who control the Senate.

Included in the USDA-FDA bill are funds for public nutrition programs such as SNAP and school lunch; farm subsidy and land stewardship programs; the expansion of broadband access in rural America; and FDA work on food safety. The House-passed version of the bill totals $197 billion. The price tag of the Senate bill was not immediately available.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees the USDA and FDA, said the disaster aid would help farmers and ranchers across the country “who are dealing with severe droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods made worse by climate change.” Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota said “nearly every [senator] in the room has had constituents who have been affected by this adverse weather.” A stand-alone bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee last week to cover farm and ranch losses in 2020 and 2021 would provide $8.5 billion.

McConnell said that absent a “top-line” agreement on spending levels for fiscal 2022, which begins on Oct. 1, the USDA-FDA bill and two other appropriations bills approved by the Appropriations Committee might be shunted aside.

“These bills are not on track to cross the finish line on the [Senate] floor,” said the minority leader.

McConnell was one of five Republicans to vote against the bill. Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who also serves on the Agriculture Committee, opposed the bill, too. Braun was defeated on a voice vote when he tried to reduce spending under the USDA-FDA bill.

The USDA-FDA bill calls on the USDA to establish a cattle contract library, a goal of farm groups, so producers could see if they are being offered a fair shake when selling animals to a packer under prearranged terms. It would also give the USDA more money to enforce fair-play rules in livestock marketing.

The House version of the funding bill would bar China from buying more U.S. farmland and make land already in its possession ineligible for farm subsidies. The sponsor of the provision, Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington State Republican, said the ownership by Chinese investors of 192,000 acres in the United States was a national security issue. Approval of the provision was a sign of increased rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.

A summary of the Senate Appropriations bill is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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