The House late Wednesday stopped further action on the fiscal year 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill until next week after House members approved a food aid amendment to which agriculture groups objected but did not deal with the controversy over school meals rules.
A House GOP aide said that further action on USDA’s budget was delayed because Republican House members are trying to come to terms with the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and his decision to resign his leadership position effective July 31.
On Tuesday, Cantor’s office said that votes on the Agriculture appropriations bill would be held until late Wednesday, but that changed after Cantor lost his primary election and announced he would resign as majority leader.
Of the eight Agriculture appropriations amendments that the House considered by roll call votes Wednesday, only one was passed: an amendment offered by House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., to add more money for the purchase of food aid in other countries.
The Royce amendment provides $10 million for the “Local and Regional Purchase program” that allows the U.S. government to buy food closer to areas of crisis. The amendment provides the money by reducing funding for the Agricultural Marketing Service, which uses taxpayer dollars to administer food advertising campaigns among other activities.
“In a time of shrinking budgets we are forced to do more with less,” Royce said. “It is crucial that the United States has the tools to respond to humanitarian crises while stretching our food aid dollars further,” he said.
“From the ongoing crisis in Syria to the devastating typhoon in the Philippines, starving people do not have months to wait for emergency food to arrive,” Royce said. “The LRP program is a bipartisan tool that been proven to reduce delivery time and costs. This proposal is common sense — it allows us to save the lives of more people facing starvation, more quickly, at a lower cost.”
A coalition of nonprofit groups including the World Food Program USA, Oxfam and Bread for the World supported the amendment.
“With limited resources available, this amendment ensures that our food aid dollars reach a greater number of people while using tax payer dollars efficiently,” the groups said in a news release. “LRP enjoys broad bipartisan support and is considered important to the broader food aid reform effort.”
In a statement on administration policy, the White House also said one of the reasons it opposed the bill as passed by the House Appropriations Committee is that it did not include the amount of money that the administration requested for the local purchase program.
The amendment passed by a vote of 223 to 198 even though a coalition of farm groups — American Sugar Alliance, Minnesota Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cotton Council, National Crop Insurance Services, Southwest Council of Agribusiness, and USA Rice Federation — opposed it.
Those groups, under the name Farm Policy Facts, said the local purchases amendment “would shift funding from the Agricultural Marketing Service to a newly authorized and controversial foreign food assistance program — the Local and Regional Purchase program — used to purchase foreign produced commodities for food aid rather than homegrown, American food.”
During floor action, the House also approved by a voice vote an amendment proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to increase funding for the school breakfast grant program by $8.1 million by offsetting the same amount from the Agriculture secretary’s administrative accounts. The amendment would bring total funding for school breakfast equipment grants to $35 million. The Obama administration had asked for that much money.
The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., that would have allowed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to spend more money on regulatory efforts and less on information technology. The vote was 194-277.
The House adopted by voice an amendment from Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., to allow veterans to apply for food stamps while their disability claims are pending with Veterans Affairs Department, The Hill reported. The amendment would increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, by $1 million to handle claims from veterans.
The lack of House action leaves the debate over school meal rules to a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the issue Thursday and to first lady Michelle Obama’s harvest of her kitchen garden in the company of several school food service nutrition directors.