Congress Reaches Funding Deal
Jerry Hagstrom DTN Political Correspondent
Wed Dec 10, 2014 09:12 AM CST
(Page 1 of 2)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack would be prevented from moving forward with a second beef checkoff under the Agriculture section of an omnibus appropriations bill that was released Tuesday night.

One provision in the Agriculture section of a proposed omnibus appropriations bill would prevent USDA from creating a new beef checkoff. (Logo courtesy of the Cattlemen's Beef Board)

The New York Times also reported that "the Environmental Protection Agency would not be limited in its ability to regulate new bodies of water under the Clean Water Act," despite provisions in the bill passed earlier by the House blocking EPA.

"After months of thorough, business-like, sometimes tough but always civil negotiations, we have reached a responsible, bipartisan and bicameral agreement on funding for government operations for 2015," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said, in a joint statement.

"As we close in on our Dec. 11 deadline, we now ask that the House and Senate take up and pass this bill as soon as possible, and that the president sign it when it reaches his desk," the statement said.

"This is the best bill that we are going to get with a Senate that is still controlled by the Democrats," said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who chairs the House Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee.

"Come Jan. 6 when the new Senate gets sworn in, then it is a new day," Aderholt said.

The overall Agriculture and related agencies bill would cost $20.5 billion for fiscal year 2015, a congressional aide said, down from $20.8 billion in 2014.

The bill would also contain $784 million in cuts to mandatory programs, the aide added.

The beef checkoff provision is in congressional "directives" language. According to a congressional source, Vilsack went too far and wanted too high administrative fees in the checkoff proposal. Vilsack announced earlier this fall he would pursue the creation of a new beef checkoff to add more funding for beef promotion and research. Groups that benefit from the current checkoff program were incensed by the move.

The bill also says the Agriculture secretary shall allow states to grant an exemption from the whole-grain requirements in school-nutrition standards if school-food authorities demonstrate "hardship including financial hardship" in procuring specific whole-grain products.

The bill also forbids USDA from using any salaries and expenses of personnel to reduce the quantity of sodium contained in federally reimbursed meals, foods and snacks below target 1 levels until scientific research establishes that the reduction is beneficial for children.

The School Nutrition Association's recent survey indicating that many school food service directors believe they will lose money or are uncertain whether they will lose money played a role in the outcome on that issue, a source said.

The bill did not follow the SNA's request making fruits and vegetables an option for students instead of mandatory, but the aide said that the battle over school meals will continue next year.

"School lunch is an anti-hunger program," a congressional aide said, adding that "there are other ways to deal with obesity such as having physical education every day."

School lunch is supposed to "break even" and when students drop out of school meals, it "upsets the cost model," the aide said. Students rejecting meals made under the new rules is a bigger problem in rural areas than in urban areas because in urban areas children have other places they can go to eat, the aide said.

Jessica Donze Black of the Pew Charitable Trusts said in an email, "We commend Congress for continuing to support schools in implementing healthy standards by appropriating $25 million for foodservice equipment grants."

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