Government Relations & Washington Update
House Subcommittee Schedules Farm Bill Hearing on the Research Title
The House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology has announced a hearing entitled: “A Review of Title VII: University Perspectives on Research and Extension Programs.” The hearing will take place on June 14th at 10am eastern. A livestream of the hearing will be available. It is the latest in a series of hearings as the committee prepares to reauthorize the Farm Bill.
Congress Passes Debt Ceiling Bill
On May 31st, the House in a Bipartisan vote passed the McCarthy-Biden Debt deal. The bill passed 317 to 117, with 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats voting “No”. The Senate followed by approving the bill on June 1st by a vote of 63-36, clearing the way for signature by the President. The bill, deemed the Fiscal Responsibility Act, will suspend the US’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling until January 1st, 2025. Overall, spending over the next two years will slightly increase, adjusted for inflation according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The bill caps nondefense spending in fiscal 2024 at $703.7 billion and $710.7 billion in fiscal 2025. If a continuing resolution is in effect on or after Jan. 1, 2024, as has been common in recent years, the discretionary spending limits for fiscal 2024 would be reduced to 1 percent less than fiscal 2023 levels. These provisions create an incentive to enact all 12 appropriations bills by the end of the calendar year. The package also rescinds approximately $27 billion in unspent funds provided under various laws enacted in 2020 for Covid-19 relief, as well as the 2021 budget reconciliation package.
One of the most hotly debated provisions is an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirement age. The age was raised from 49 to 54, meaning that able-bodied adults 54 and younger will only be able to receive longer term SNAP benefits if they can demonstrate 20 or more work hours per week. In exchange for raising the age requirements, Democrats were successful in including exemptions to SNAP work requirements for veterans, homeless, and young adults transitioning out of the foster care system. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the exemptions will account for more program participation than the reductions expected by the stricter work requirements. Republican leaders have taken exception to CBO’s estimate that the new policy will actually result in over $2 billion in additional program spending. By resolving the SNAP work requirements debate through the debt ceiling legislation, there is optimism on both sides of the aisle that proceeding with a bipartisan Farm Bill will be easier.
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Considers FY 2024 Spending Bill
On May 18th, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee met to consider its version of the FY 2024 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The legislation would provide $17.163 billion, which is $8.682 billion below FY23 and $11.732 billion below the president’s budget request. The bill also provides $8.150 billion in funding repurposed from unobligated balances from pandemic-era programs. The plan to repurpose unspent pandemic funding was strongly criticized by Democratic members of the subcommittee, who argued that the proposed bill underfunds key priorities, particularly in nutrition and rural development.
For agricultural research, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), would receive $1.746 billion, an increase of $1.2 million over FY 2023. The bill provides $1.692 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which represents a decrease of $9.5 million. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive an increase of $5 million. Specific details within the NIFA accounts will be made available before the full committee markup. The Economic Research Service (ERS) would receive $90.6 million, a $2 million reduction from FY 2023. The bill includes $187.5 million for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), down 23.5 million from FY 2023.
The bill was approved by the subcommittee on a voice vote, with support from Republican members and opposition from Democratic members. The full House Appropriations Committee had originally scheduled a markup for May 24th but had to postpone consideration due to debt ceiling deliberations. The committee also had to consider necessary adjustments to the subcommittee approved version as a result of the debt ceiling bill provisions. The Appropriations Committee is now expected to consider the bill on June 14th.