The Senate passed a combination continuing resolution and omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government for the 2015 fiscal year, after the House passed the same legislation last week. Informally dubbed the "CRomnibus," the bill designates funding for 11 individual spending bills, including the agriculture appropriations legislation. The American Soybean Association (ASA) thanked Senate committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and House committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) for their leadership on the bill.
“This bill represents a mixed bag, with some ASA-championed programs receiving steady or increased funding, while other ASA-supported programs receiving cuts. It doesn't give us one hundred percent of what we need, but it does recognize a significant number of our priorities by making investments in the projects and programs that soybean farmers use every day,” said Wade Cowan, ASA’s president and a farmer from Brownfield, Texas.
Cowan noted that the association is pleased with the increase in funding that the bill provides for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which was given a three percent boost in funding. Additionally, ASA is very supportive of language in the bill that would withdraw the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretive rule on the Waters of the United States.
In the area of conservation, ASA is disappointed in the bill’s further cuts to conservation programs on working lands like the voluntary Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), as these programs have been proven effective in improving soil and water health.
With regard to waterways infrastructure, significant funding increases were provided for several ASA priority areas. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction account for waterways infrastructure was increased by $514.5 million above the administration's request, including $112 million in additional funding for Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) projects. Reflecting policy changes that were supported by ASA and made in the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA) that was enacted earlier this year, the omnibus appropriations bill funds the Olmsted lock & dam project with a 85 percent to 15 cost-share between the IWTF and general treasury. Previously it was split 50-50, consuming nearly all of the available IWTF dollars. The omnibus also provides $1.1 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is an increase of $100 million above the previous year. Overall, the Corps of Engineers fared well, with a $921 million increase in their Civil Works account and a $47.5 million increase in the Operations & Maintenance account, levels that will help the Corps in its efforts to maintain operations on the Mississippi River and other inland waterways and make upgrades to the aging infrastructure.
In the arena of international trade, the bill contains language directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a path forward on a fix to the ASA-opposed mandatory country of origin labeling requirements that have been found by the World Trade Organization to be out of compliance with U.S. trade obligations. “While Congress’ acknowledgement of the issue is a positive step, it stops short of the clear-cut fix that ASA is looking for as a member of the COOL Reform Coalition,” said Cowan.
Additionally, the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Programs were funded at their previous $34.5 million and $200 million levels, and the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole Food For Education programs were funded at $1.5 billion and $192 million, respectively.
The bill will now head to President Barack Obama's desk for signature.