In July, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees passed their own versions of the fiscal 2016 agriculture spending bill. However, neither chamber has voted on their respective bill, punting work on appropriations issues to the fall, after the August recess.
The Senate’s $20.5 billion agriculture spending bill cuts funding levels by $65 million below the enacted discretionary fiscal 2015 amounts, while the House’s $20.65 billion agriculture spending bill reduces the spending levels by $175 million below the current enacted discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is the portion of the budget that the president requests and Congress appropriates every year. It represents less than one-third of the total federal budget, while mandatory spending accounts for around two-thirds.
The AVMA’s federal funding priorities fared about as well as could be expected given ongoing budget constraints—most were either level-funded or slightly increased. Below is a table that lists AVMA’s funding requests in comparison to what each program received in the Senate and House versions of the agriculture appropriations bill.
The Senate agriculture spending bill included first-time funding for the Veterinary Services Grant Program—a complementary program to the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program—that will help relieve veterinary shortage situations and support private veterinary practices that are engaged in public health activities in rural and underserved areas of the countries. Also included in the Senate’s bill is $2.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Food and Drug Administration, including $45 million in additional funding for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act; and $1 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is devoted largely to the roughly 8,000 personnel who inspect our meat, poultry and egg products.
The AVMA sought report language, which typically accompanies a spending bill, to facilitate better communication between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and veterinarians who participate in its loan repayment program. This will help the agency and Congress assess the effectiveness of the program as well as facilitate the success of current and future participants. While verbiage was not included in the House report, it was included in the Senate report:
“Veterinarians fulfilling the terms of a contract under the USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Services Act, shall be members of the National Veterinary Medical Services Corps and members who have fulfilled the terms of their contract shall be alumni of the Corps.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee extended the ban on horse slaughter in its bill, while the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment extending the ban. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said the amendment would not stop the slaughter of horses, since horses are simply shipped out of the country where they are then slaughtered.
The Obama administration expressed opposition to both the House and Senate agriculture spending bills in four-page letters sent to Appropriations Committee Chairmen Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) [PDF] and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) [PDF]. The administration objects the “inadequate” spending levels and opposes a range of policy riders included in the bills. Congress and the administration will need to compromise if the agriculture or any other appropriations bill is to get signed into law.
The House and Senate are back in their home districts during the August recess and will return to Washington on Sept. 8. When they return, they face a long list of unfinished business, including passing 12 of the appropriations bills that fund federal agencies and programs. There will be no time on the legislative calendar for this to happen before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The last time Congress actually passed all 12 appropriations bills in regular order was in 1997! There is no doubt there will be one, and possibly more, continuing resolutions to keep the government running while lawmakers work out a budget deal for fiscal 2016, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed that the government will not shut down, as it did in October 2013.