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Published June 23, 2014, 09:40 AM

Ag bill set aside in Senate and House

WASHINGTON — The Agriculture appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, is now bogged down in both the Senate and the House.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The Agriculture appropriations bill for the 2015 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, is now bogged down in both the Senate and the House.

The Senate approved a measure to proceed with the Agriculture bill but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wanted a 60-vote threshold on amendments in order to limit the number that would pass and most likely to avoid potentially embarrassing votes for Democrats who are up for re-election. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wanted to reduce the number of votes required for an amendment to be added to the bill, but Reid disagreed and on June 19 set the bill aside.

Meanwhile in the House, the election of a new majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and a new majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., has put the bill on hold indefinitely as the new leaders try to figure out how to handle the bill.

House Agriculture Appropriations Committee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif., said he thinks Republicans might be delaying the bill because they do not have the votes to keep a controversial provision in the House bill that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant a waiver from healthier meals rules to any school that says it has been losing money in the school lunch program.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said on June 18 he would offer two amendments to the bill.

One would reprogram $2 million in the fiscal year 2015 Natural Resources and Conservation Service budget to address the backlog of undetermined wetlands in all states.

“Conservation compliance is an eligibility requirement for crop insurance premium assistance and most other federal farm program benefits,” Thune noted.

“With a backlog of more than 3,000 undetermined wetlands in South Dakota, these farmers cannot apply any water management practices on their land because they do not know where NRCS will determine wetlands are located. Some farmers have been waiting two or more years for these determinations.”

Thune’s second amendment directs Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to complete National Environmental Policy Act activities, if required, within 30 days of receiving an emergency Conservation Reserve Program haying or grazing request because of drought.

“In the drought of 2012, farmers were forced to wait for USDA to complete NEPA requirements before certain CRP practices could be approved by the secretary for emergency haying and grazing,” Thune said. “This amendment requires the secretary to expedite this process to make emergency feed available when a drought occurs.”

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