The U.S. House voted to cut almost $3 billion in USDA and agency spending Thursday in a bill that also defunds controversial meat marketing rules and would block World Trade Organization cotton case payments to Brazil. The bill cuts non-mandatory spending to below pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels - $2.7 billion from current spending and $7 billion below the President's request - with the biggest cuts in the popular Women, Infants and Children feeding program, conservation, rural development and the FDA.
The bill, which passed 217 to 203, would block spending to finalize USDA's controversial livestock and marketing rule, which key industry groups argue violates the 2008 Farm Bill and would cost jobs and revenue. Lawmakers voted, in another cost-saving move with uncertain repercussions, to end cotton payments to Brazil in a WTO case the U.S. lost. But the House turned back efforts by Representative Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to end farm payments with those having $250,000 or more in adjusted gross income.
But Flake's bid to do what the Obama White House and USDA have failed to do for more than two years, sharply cut payment limits, was rebuffed by House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
"Arbitrarily changing eligibility requirements for farmer programs outside of the Farm Bill is irresponsible, and it seriously undermines farmers' ability to make long term plans and investments," Lucas said. "It adds a dangerous element of uncertainty to the market, the result would be a reluctance to make investments in equipment and practices that increase productivity."
Lucas says that the process of writing the next Farm Bill will begin in the committee this week with a comprehensive audit to see which ag programs are working or not. Lucas credited his predecessor Collin Peterson, D-Minn., with some of the most aggressive payment limit reforms in two decades in the 2008 Farm Bill.
The House also turned back a Flake amendment to end the ethanol subsidies. But in a surprising turnaround, the Senate adopted, on a largely symbolic vote since only the House can initiate tax measures, an amendment to end the ethanol tax credit and import tariff. Amendment author Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., blamed ethanol for tight corn supplies despite forecasted record production this year.
Feinstein's amendment passed 73 to 27, just two days after an identical measure co-sponsored with Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., failed in a procedural spat.