Harris Remarks at FY24 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Bill Full Committee Markup
Thank you, Chairwoman Granger, and I want to commend your leadership in moving the fiscal year 2024 appropriations process forward. I also want to recognize the Ranking Member of the Full Committee, Ms. DeLauro, and the Ranking Member of the Agriculture Subcommittee, Mr. Bishop, as I appreciate the conversations he and I have had in regards to the bill. While I know we don’t agree on everything, we have reached areas of consensus that will keep our Ag communities vital.
As Americans know all too well, our country continues to face record inflation, driven by the over- spending of the last Congress and the Biden Administration. We simply cannot continue down this path of spending large sums of money without regard to the fiscal future of our nation. Today’s bill takes the same approach American families take every day – they simply have to do more with less under this Biden economy. American families decide every day where to cut back spending to pay for what’s most important. For them, those decisions are difficult. Likewise, we have to make tough decisions for the good of the nation’s future.
For Fiscal Year 2024, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee’s discretionary allocation is $17.8 billion. By redirecting nearly $7.5 billion in unobligated funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, this bill funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission with an effective allocation of $25.3 billion – a decrease of two percent from this fiscal year, and an increase of only $188 million above FY22 levels.
This legislation supports critical ag research and plant and animal health programs, invests in rural communities, expands access to broadband, provides nutrition assistance to those in need, and ensures that American consumers have a safe food and drug supply.
This legislation rejects the Biden Administration’s unrealistic proposed spending levels that disregard the dire fiscal reality our country faces. It also rejects the Administration’s continued push to bloat inside the beltway Federal bureaucracy by halting new hires in the Washington D.C. office - instead focusing on hiring an increased USDA workforce outside the beltway, in the offices that directly serve and support rural America.
I would like to highlight a few areas where this legislation prioritizes essential functions while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Supporting the Core Mission:
The bill provides nearly $1.2 billion for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to support the Department’s efforts to protect our producers from foreign plant and animal diseases.
The bill continues to invest in the delivery of farm programs, disaster assistance, and crop insurance to farmers and ranchers by maintaining funding for the Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency.
The bill provides a $39 million increase for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to fully fund our Nation’s frontline inspectors of meat and poultry products.
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides food to low-income seniors, is increased by $35 million to help with the runaway food cost inflation these seniors face, and that we all face under the Biden economy.
We also continue to make important investments in critical agricultural research that will keep our producers on the cutting-edge of technology and production practices. The bill increases funding for USDA’s flagship competitive grant program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, by $5 million.
This legislation continues to fund Rural Development programs, including critical infrastructure investments in water and wastewater systems, broadband, and rural housing programs. The bill includes over $260 million for ReConnect to complement generous existing funds to deploy broadband to the most underserved areas.
We also continue to provide homeownership loans. But OMB subsidy rates have skyrocketed due to inflation under the Biden economy, and so to keep credit flowing in rural areas, the bill increases the budget authority by 87 percent to support these programs. And Rural Housing Grants have over $100 million available from prior appropriations in addition to what we provide in this bill.
For the Food and Drug Administration, the bill provides just over $3.5 billion in direct appropriations, and, with increased user fees, FDA has a total budget of $6.6 billion to enable the Agency to keep food, drugs, and medical devices safe and effective.
The bill includes $345 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to continue to oversee and ensure the integrity of U.S. derivative markets.
At the same time, this legislation reins in some of the Administration’s wasteful, out-of-control spending.
It removes the Secretary’s discretionary use of the Commodity Credit Corporation to fund unauthorized non-emergency programs by returning statutory language to the pre-COVID language. Last week, even the GAO concluded USDA’s use of the CCC failed to comply with the Congressional Review Act. The CCC is not intended to allow USDA to completely bypass Congress in establishing new programs – and in this bill we put an end to this abuse. In doing so, the bill saves $1 billion in FY24 alone. Given that USDA used these discretionary powers to spend $2.5 billion and $6.6 billion the last two fiscal years, respectively, I would submit to my colleagues the real savings to taxpayers of taking these authorities away will be much higher than the CBO score. Let me be clear - restricting these authorities will have no impact on Farm Bill and conservation programs, crop insurance, or the Secretary’s ability to access the CCC in an animal or plant health emergency. All of those duties and functions will continue under this bill.
This legislation also rescinds $5.8 billion in wasteful spending from the Inflation Reduction Act. It is finally time to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars by rescinding these new government giveaways. We must work to right-size programs, especially since the pandemic is over and President Biden ended the Public Health Emergency last month.
And this is why we are returning the WIC Cash Value Voucher benefits to a normal, sustainable, inflation-adjusted funding level. The American Rescue Plan provided a “one-time” increase in these benefits due to the pandemic, but these increases continued to be built into the WIC program into FY22 and 23. The bill provides cash value vouchers above pre-pandemic levels to help with food price inflation caused by the Biden economy, but with the end of the public health emergency, it’s time to return this program to normal operations.
The bill provides $6 billion total for WIC – the same appropriation as fiscal year 2023. As benefit levels return to normal, all eligible participants will be served at this funding level, and the Secretary still has a WIC contingency fund balance to meet unexpected demand.
Programs that have received significant increases through the IIJA and the American Rescue Plan did not receive additional funding if sufficient balances remain available. We will continue to monitor the expenditure of these funds as the process moves forward.
On the regulatory front, this legislation puts a stop to USDA’s efforts under the Packers and Stockyards Act to dictate how poultry and livestock producers raise and market their animals. This bill also prevents the purchase of farmland by our foreign adversaries, while providing funds for the Farm Service Agency to fulfill its duty to track foreign ownership of land.
The bill also returns the use of mifepristone to in-person dispensing by a health care provider. This is a drug that should not be used without the supervision of a physician. Anyone who truly cares – who genuinely cares - about women’s health and safety should support this common sense provision.
Finally, as I said earlier, this bill takes the same approach American families take every day – they have to do more with less under the Biden economy. American families decide every day where to cut back spending to pay for what’s most important. We are not appropriating Monopoly money – it’s hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and sometimes tough decisions have to be made – and this bill makes those decisions.
In conclusion, I want to thank the staff on the Subcommittee for their efforts – Pam Miller, Justin Masucci, Elizabeth Dent, Judd Gardner, Mary Hubert, and Shiela Corley as well as Martha Foley, Alex Swann, and Tyler Coe on the minority staff.
I look forward to working with all of you as the bill moves forward, and I ask for your support for this legislation.
Madam Chairwoman, I yield back.