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White House Targets Ag Provisions in Veto Threat of Mammoth Funding Bill

The U.S. House opened debate on a mammoth federal spending bill, including money for the USDA, on Tuesday under the threat of a presidential veto of the $322 billion bill. The White House said it opposed half a dozen USDA provisions in the bill, including language that would preclude relocating two research agencies to Kansas City and implementing a new inspection system for hog-slaughter plants.

In the 11-page Statement of Administration Policy, the White House said it was disappointed there was no language in the bill to allow interim reimbursement of the Commodity Credit Corp., which has covered the cost of Trump tariff payments to farmers and ranchers. The CCC, known as the “USDA’s bank,” has $7.7 billion left from its annual borrowing limit of $30 billion, according to Senator Debbie Stabenow — not enough to cover the $16 billion package announced by President Trump a month ago. CCC funding is renewed each fiscal year.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who chose Kansas City as the new home for the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture last week, plans to complete the move by September 30, the final day of this fiscal year. The bill pending in the House applies to fiscal 2020, which starts on October 1, so Perdue might be able to evade the prohibition in the bill, even if it becomes law.

In raising the threat of a veto, the White House said the spending bill would cost too much. The departments of Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, Interior, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development would be funded by the bill, as would such agencies as the FDA, EPA, and NASA. House Democratic leaders said 290 amendments could be offered during floor debate, including 34 concerning the USDA.

Representative Sanford Bishop, whose Appropriations subcommittee oversees the USDA and FDA, said that “to protect the integrity” of the ERS and NIFA, prohibitions against moving the agencies were included in the funding bill. An array of farm and science groups oppose the relocation, as do former officials, from Republican and Democratic administrations, who led the USDA’s research activities. The White House says the relocation would save money and “bring federal resources closer to the stakeholders.”

The spending bill would block the USDA from implementing a new hog-slaughter inspection system until the agency’s inspector general reviews the data compiled by the USDA to justify it. The bill also would prevent the USDA from closing several Civilian Conservation Centers, which are run by the U.S. Forest Service and offer job-training programs.

In its statement, the White House said it had requested an interim infusion of money for the Commodity Credit Corp. This would be the second year of Trump tariff payments. The USDA has spent around $10 billion, including more than $8.5 billion in direct payments to producers, to offset the impact of the trade war on 2018 production, with payments that stretched into this year. The new trade mitigation package would disburse payments to farmers in three installments, beginning in late summer, officials said in late May.

When Stabenow asked about CCC funding during a Senate Agriculture hearing last week, Agriculture Undersecretary Ted McKinney said, “We are going to take what we have and use that” for trade payments.

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