By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- The House passed its appropriations bill for almost all federal agencies late Thursday night, including several policy riders for USDA.
On the Senate side of Congress, businesses keep waiting for senators to take up the tax-extender package that passed the House last week. That bill also includes language that would raise the diesel tax on inland waterways, which the industry supports.
The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill on a 219-206 vote Thursday that reflects some division in both parties. Democrats opposed provisions that would boost campaign contributions and strip some protections from the Dodd-Frank Act. Some Republicans wanted to do more to block the president's immigration order.
The ball is now in the Senate's court. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on the spending bill early Friday evening. Reid hoped senators would not have to wait until Sunday to vote on the bill. His move effectively blocked senators from trying to amend the funding bill. He added that he hoped "cooler heads" would prevail.
"Remember, midnight on Saturday, the government runs out of money," Reid said.
Under the funding provision approved by the House, the Farm Service Agency would be blocked from cutting staff or offices. The bill prevents FSA from closing 250 county offices or eliminating 815 staff positions. The budget agreement actually puts a "temporary moratorium" on closing FSA offices or "relocating employees" until a comprehensive assessment of FSA workload is completed by USDA.
"This agreement reiterates dissatisfaction with the agency's budget submission. The budget request did not provide a rationale for the proposed office closures and staffing changes, did not clearly describe the effect of the proposed actions, and did not include a timeline for implementation that demonstrates how savings could be achieved," the bill states.
USDA also is directed to operate the Marketing Assistance Loan Program in a way that encourages redemption and minimizes forfeitures of commodity loans.
Within 15 days of a final resolution at the World Trade Organization or by May 1, 2015, whichever comes first, USDA must submit a new plan for COOL to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees with recommendations for any changes in federal law "that does not conflict with, or is in any manner inconsistent with, the trade obligations of the United States."
In another win for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the bill also blocks the secretary from using the 1996 checkoff act to implement a new, parallel beef checkoff. "An overwhelming majority of cattle producers do not support paying assessments into two separate beef checkoff programs operating simultaneously," the bill states. "The secretary is directed not to implement a second duplicative beef checkoff program."
Congress also again blocked a livestock and poultry marketing rule put into effect in 2012 by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. The provision mainly deals with the delivery of birds, capital investments, remedy for breach of contract and arbitration.
Yet, in another controversial battle, Congress continued to block any federal salaries or expenses related to horse slaughter.
Congress also made sure that while it is now OK for the U.S. to import processed chicken meat from China, none of that chicken can go for the federal school-lunch program.
Regarding the waters of the U.S. rule with EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, Congress is requiring the two agencies to withdraw the "interpretive rule" that was handed down last March regarding conservation practices that would be exempt from Clean Water Act provisions. The appropriations bill didn't specifically block EPA from continuing to pursue the actual Clean Water Act rule revising the definition of Waters of the United States.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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