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House returns from recess, but USDA appropriations low on agenda.

What earlier had appeared to be promising scenario for moving Agriculture's fiscal 2015 appropriations bill through the House legislative process has run aground and now could be postponed until the House returns from its August recess on Sept. 8. Congress is back from its week-long Independence Day recess, but there is not a lot of optimism that members will accomplish much before the five-week August recess gets underway Aug. 1

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) earlier said he wants to complete floor debate on the measure, which covers spending not only for USDA but also for the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission before the House begins its August recess on Aug. 1.

There are several issues that appear to be preventing the House Republican leadership from bringing the measure to the floor now. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told reporters that key among those are proposed changes in rules governing federal nutrition programs, providing funding to pay for federal inspection of horse meat for human consumption, and whether both USDA and FDA should be responsible for inspecting catfish.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) has offered an amendment to the spending bill that would repeal the part of the law that gave USDA a share of catfish-farm inspections along with FDA's oversight of seafood.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is fighting to keep the USDA involved in catfish inspection, while opponents of the catfish program say it is a trade barrier aimed at Vietnam and could hurt administration efforts to forge a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal.

As written, the spending measure contains a provision that would allow school districts to opt out of federal nutrition mandates if they can show that maintaining higher standards cause them to lose money. That provision is opposed by most Democrats and the White House, including first lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a much publicized fight against the bill's proposed relaxation of nutritional standards for school lunches.

Democrats also plan to fight against a provision that allows white potatoes to be eligible to be purchased for the Women, Infants and Children's (WIC) feeding program, another provision opposed by nutritionists.

House Appropriations Committee member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), says the bill is in trouble because the school-lunch provision unites Democrats, offering little cushion if another issue, such as horse slaughtering, peels away Republican votes. Republicans hold a significant majority in the House and if they unite on an issue, Democrats can do little to stop them. And as DeLauro noted in a recent interview, "If they had the votes they'd bring it [the spending bill] up."

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Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Date:Jul 7, 2014
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