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Committee amends farm programs

WASHINGTON -- In a signal of the growing unpopularity of farm programs, the House Appropriations Committee May 31 approved amendments to the fiscal year 2012 appropriations.

WASHINGTON -- In a signal of the growing unpopularity of farm programs, the House Appropriations Committee May 31 approved amendments to the fiscal year 2012 appropriations.

The amendments:

- Impose stricter income limits on farmers who get subsidies.

- Take money from the direct payments cotton farmers get and use it to pay obligations to Brazil to settle the cotton trade case that the United States lost in the World Trade Organization.

- Use money that would go to the Brazilians to assure funding for the special nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC.

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- Continue a ban on U.S. government inspection of horse meat for human consumption.

At the end of a four-hour markup, the committee approved a bill to provide the fiscal year 2012 appropriation for the Agriculture Department, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Farm Credit Administration.

The bill provides a total of $125 billion, including mandatory USDA programs such as farm subsidies, food stamps and school lunch programs, and includes $17.2 billion for discretionary programs at the four agencies.

There was no major debate over the size of the bill. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., emphasized that the bill's discretionary funding would be less than in previous years, but that the overall bill still will be higher than last year by $280 million because of increased spending on nutrition programs.

Democrats led by House Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., said the bill did not provide enough money to feed poor people and deal with many problems in rural America.

Kingston noted that the bill contains a provision to make sure farmers who use futures are not considered swap dealers. The bill provides much less than the Obama administration requested to pay for the CFTC implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said she probably will offer an amendment on the floor to provide more money for CTFC to enforce that law.

Payment changes

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., offered an amendment to limit the incomes of farmers who get subsidies to $250,000 per person or entity, compared with $750,000 at present. Flake has proposed the income limit in previous years and lost, but this year won on a voice vote.

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Flake also proposed an amendment to fund the $143 million payment that the United States makes to Brazil for damages to its cotton farmers, taking it from the direct payments that U.S. cotton farmers get, rather than from other USDA funds. The amendment passed on a voice vote.

Flake told reporters after the markup that the direct payments are "the fattest target out there" and cannot be defended since farm incomes are up 20 percent this year.

National Cotton Council lobbyist John Maguire had no comment after the vote on direct payments.

WIC funding

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., proposed that the money that would be paid to the Brazilians be used to increase funding for the WIC program, and that measure also passed on a voice vote. DeLauro said there is no conflict between her measure and Flake's because her amendment, which said the cost of the Brazil program is $147 million, would apply to fiscal year 2012, while Flake's shift to direct payments as a funding source would apply to fiscal year 2013.

DeLauro said she realizes that not making the payment to the Brazilians would make the United States out of compliance with its agreement with Brazil to settle to WTO case.

Horse meat

The subcommittee-approved draft of the bill did not contain a provision banning the inspection of horse meat for consumption that has been in each Agriculture appropriations bill since 2006, but Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment to include it. Kingston and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., opposed the measure on the grounds that the ban has led to the shipment of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.

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House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said opponents had won the voice vote, but on a roll call, the measure passed by a vote of 24-21.

More for aid program?

The committee also engaged in a long discussion of whether more money is needed for the WIC program to assure that all women and infants who qualify for the program get served, and what percentage of the program's budget is used for administrative expenses.

Kingston said the bill had provisions to make sure everyone gets served but also said he is concerned that people are eligible for too many nutrition programs and that the programs should be combined.

DeLauro presented a letter from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying that hundreds of thousands of women and infants could be denied coverage, but the committee did not change the funding allocation.

Report language on the bill said that 40 percent of the WIC budget goes to administrative costs. Dicks said that 70 percent of the WIC budget goes to food and that the other 30 percent is divided among educational and medical programs and that only 9 percent goes for administration. Kingston cited a USDA Economic Research Service study that said 45 percent of WIC money is spent on administration.

DeLauro proposed an amendment to strike the language that says WIC administration costs 40 percent of the budget, but the committee rejected it on a vote of 26 to 22.

Democrats and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., said they are concerned about a cut in the international food aid budget for emergencies, and Kingston said he is working on a proposal to allow 20 percent of the budget for development aid to be used for emergency food aid.

The committee also adopted by voice vote a Kaptur amendment to transfer $1.2 million in unspent USDA administrative funds to the Rural Energy for America program.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., offered amendments that people who have been convicted of crimes and corporations that have not paid taxes cannot get government contracts under the bill.

women and infants could be denied coverage, but the committee did not change the funding allocation.

Report language on the bill said that 40 percent of the WIC budget goes to administrative costs. Dicks said that 70 percent of the WIC budget goes to food and that the other 30 percent is divided among educational and medical programs and that only 9 percent goes for administration.

Kingston cited a USDA Economic Research Service study that said 45 percent of WIC money is spent on administration.

DeLauro proposed an amendment to strike the language that says WIC administration costs 40 percent of the budget, but the committee rejected it on a vote of 26 to 22.

Democrats and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., said they are concerned about a cut in the international food aid budget for emergencies, and Kingston said he is working on a proposal to allow 20 percent of the budget for development aid to be used for emergency food aid.

The committee also adopted by voice vote a Kaptur amendment to transfer $1.2 million in unspent USDA administrative funds to the Rural Energy for America program.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., offered amendments that people who have been convicted of crimes and corporations that have not paid taxes cannot get government contracts under the bill.

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