WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House approved a $259.5 billion spending package Friday that includes the $24 billion fiscal 2021 agricultural spending bill.
The package cleared the lower chamber on a 224-189 vote.
The measure — typically one of the biggest annual fights over food and farm issues — skidded through the House with little debate, which experts say is because legislators are focused on other issues, like COVID-19 stimulus packages.
“Attention now turns to the Senate,” said RJ Karney, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The spending bill, agricultural leaders say, includes some provisions that will help rural America — and others that could be damaging.
Advocates say the package is necessary for agricultural industries, but because the bill imposes new restrictions on the Trump administration and lacks bipartisan support, legislators say it’s unlikely to become law in its current form.
Karney of the Farm Bureau told the Capital Press Monday the organization does not take a position on the overall bill but has supported some amendments and opposed others.
Rural and agricultural leaders say the bill would have many positive impacts.
It would provide millions of dollars to agricultural research, increase nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico, increase funding for broadband and rural development, support crop protection and pest management, resolve “heirs property” issues, help offset costs for farmers and ranchers who have had to buy personal protective equipment and renovate facilities, and invest in dairy innovations.
But the bill has also raised hackles.
Meat industry leaders expressed concern that the bill would no longer allow USDA to increase processing line speeds at packing plants.
The bill would also block the Trump administration from limiting eligibility for SNAP benefits, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, sent a letter to the House July 23 expressing concern about a few of the bill’s amendments.
The organization, he wrote, opposes amendment 58, which would nullify the president’s Executive Order 13917 that allowed meat and poultry plants to stay operational during COVID-19.
Duvall also opposes amendment 72, the National Environmental Policy Act, which he said would “prohibit efforts to return to a federal permitting process that is predictable and transparent.”
Both advocates and critics of the bill have stated the urgency that some kind of funding package gets approved soon to ward off a potential government shutdown — which legislators on both sides of the aisle agree could be devastating during the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression.
A plan B may be needed if the spending bill, as expected, doesn’t pass the Senate.
“It appears more and more likely that Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operational,” said Karney.
A continuing resolution would allow short-term continuation of funding at the same level as the previous fiscal period until a bipartisan bill with new funding gets passed.