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GOP takes aim at USDA’s climate programs, competition rulemakings in appropriations bill


House Republicans’ fiscal year 2024 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration would take a razor to programs popular among farmers and food companies while advancing Republicans’ agenda to rein in government spending.

The bill, unveiled Wednesday morning, would chop more than $8 billion from fiscal year 2023 spending levels, and would hit nutrition programs for low-income people and the Biden administration’s climate initiatives for agriculture particularly hard. It also includes language to eliminate funding to the FDA for mail-order abortion medications and to expand work requirements for certain beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, something House Republicans are also pushing in their negotiations with the White House to raise the debt limit. Those proposals are non-starters in the Democratic-controlled Senate and have little chance of making it into a final spending package. Instead, the bill represents an opening pitch from GOP appropriators in negotiations with the upper chamber and White House to fund the government when the current fiscal year ends in September.

The House Appropriations Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee plans to consider the bill Thursday morning. The markup comes as House Republicans continue to negotiate with the White House on across-the-board spending cuts in exchange for a vote to raise the debt ceiling, which the country could hit by the end of the month.

Nutrition: House Republicans’ spending bill would cut $32 billion from current SNAP funding levels, to $122 billion. However, the food security program — the nation’s largest, feeding roughly 41 million low-income Americans — is a mandatory program, with funding levels for the next five years determined in the farm bill Congress is expected to pass later this year.

The bill proposes maintaining the fiscal 2023 funding level for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known commonly as WIC, at $6 billion. President Joe Biden’s budget requested a $300 million increase for the coming fiscal year.

The bill would also raise the age limit for so-called “able-bodied” SNAP recipients without dependents from 49 to 55, a controversial proposal that Hill Democrats are almost unanimously against. Biden, however, has expressed some openness to considering that proposal in the debt limit negotiations.

Climate: The GOP proposal would also roll back a number of climate programs that were part of the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats’ marquee climate bill. The bill would slash an IRA program to provide $9.7 billion in grants and loans to rural electric cooperatives, dubbed the New ERA, by $3.25 billion. And it would cut $500 million from the IRA’s boost to the Rural Energy for America Program, which the Biden administration has touted as the largest investment in rural electrification since the New Deal.

Competition rules: House Republicans’ bill also includes language to kill the Agriculture Department’s proposed rules to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, a 1921 agricultural antitrust law. The rules are a centerpiece of the Biden administration’s agenda to confront monopoly power in agriculture; Biden specifically called for these rulemakings in his 2021 executive order promoting competition. Republican appropriators also want to cut $5 million from USDA’s Packers and Stockyards Division.

DEI: The bill would eliminate funding for USDA’s new diversity and inclusion office and $2 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act for loan forgiveness for distressed borrowers, a program originally intended for Black farmers who experienced discrimination. USDA had to revise that program, expanding it to all distressed borrowers, after it was challenged in court.

Some funding bumps: Republicans did suggest increasing funding for agriculture research (although not for climate-related purposes), a priority for many commodities and other trade groups. The bill also proposes increased funding for food safety inspectors, some child and senior nutrition programs and for USDA’s efforts to track foreign land ownership.

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