Harris Remarks at Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Bill Markup

May 18, 2023

Good morning. The Subcommittee will come to order. I want to welcome everyone to the Subcommittee Markup of the Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. 

I am pleased to be joined by our Subcommittee Ranking Member Bishop, and full committee Ranking Member DeLauro, and the Members of the Subcommittee.

As Americans know all too well, our country continues to face record inflation driven by the reckless spending of the Biden Administration. We simply cannot continue down this path of providing large sums of money with no accountability. 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. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made.

For fiscal year 2024, the Subcommittee’s discretionary allocation is $17.2 billion. By redirecting $8.15 billion in unobligated funds from the American Rescue Plan and 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 only two percent, or $532 million, from fiscal year 2023.

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 are detached from the dire fiscal reality our country faces. It also rejects the Administration’s continued push to bloat the Federal bureaucracy by halting new hires in the Washington D.C. office to instead focus on hiring the 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 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 legislation 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 account for food cost inflation under the Biden economy.

We also 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 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. 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 the 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.

Fiscal Responsibility:

At the same time, this legislation reins in the Biden Administration’s wasteful, out-of-control spending.

By removing the Ag Secretary’s discretionary use of the Commodity Credit Corporation to fund unauthorized non-emergency programs, this legislation saves $1 billion in fiscal year 2024 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 are even higher. 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 $6.25 billion in unobligated funds from the American Rescue Plan and wasteful spending in the Inflation Reduction Act. It has been over three years since the economy was shut down due to the pandemic. President Biden ended the Public Health Emergency last week. It is finally time to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars by rescinding unspent funds from programs solely established to respond to an emergency that no longer exists.

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 the Democrats built these increases into the WIC program in FY22 and 23. The bill provides benefits above pre-pandemic levels to account for 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 as fiscal year 2023. Participation rates have been steady over the past three years, and the Secretary has a WIC contingency fund to meet unexpected demand. As benefit levels return to normal, all eligible participants will be served at this funding level.

Programs that have received significant increases through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and 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. It will also prevent the purchase of farmland by companies owned 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 medical professional. Anyone who truly cares – who genuinely cares - about women’s health and safety should support this 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 the hard-earned taxpayer dollar, and sometimes tough decisions have to be made.

In conclusion, I want to thank the staff on the Subcommittee, and would note that the Subcommittee received nearly 8,000 Member requests touching every agency under our jurisdiction. The strong interest in this bill highlights its importance to the lives of all Americans. We have attempted to address both Republican and Democrat Member requests within the available budget through Community Project Funding, programmatic funding, and bill and report language.

I look forward to working with all of you as the bill moves forward, and I ask for your support for this legislation.

Now, I will recognize the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Mr. Bishop, for his opening remarks.