Harris Remarks During Floor Consideration of H.R. 4368, The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I rise today to bring before the House H.R. 4368, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bill.
I want to thank Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Granger and commend her for her leadership in moving this bill and 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. I appreciate the conversations he and I have had regarding the bill. While I know we don’t agree on everything, we have reached areas of consensus that will keep our Ag communities strong.
As Americans know all too well, our country continues to battle high inflation, driven by the over-spending of the last Congress and the Biden Administration. The fiscal situation in the United States has changed since the Appropriations Committee passed this bill in June.
While we were on the August recess, the Congressional Budget Office projected the deficit to reach $2 trillion for this fiscal year – doubling last year’s deficit of $1 trillion – and the deficit outlook for the future has gotten much worse. We simply cannot continue down this path of spending large sums of money without regard to the fiscal future of our nation.
This bill takes the same approach American families take every day – they simply 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. For them, those decisions are difficult. Likewise, we have to make tough decisions for the good of the nation.
This is why the rule implements further reductions totaling $2.7 billion across the discretionary accounts in the bill, except for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. With this reduction, the Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture Appropriation bill’s discretionary allocation is $15.1 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 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with an effective program level of $22.5 billion – a decrease of 12.8 percent from the current fiscal year.
This legislation prioritizes critical ag research and plant and animal health programs, invests in rural communities, 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.
The bill provides $1 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 $1 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to fund our Nation’s frontline inspectors of meat and poultry products.
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, and continue to fund Rural Development programs, including critical infrastructure investments in water and wastewater systems, broadband, and rural housing programs.
For the Food and Drug Administration, the bill provides just over $6 billion in direct appropriations and user fees to enable the agency to keep food, drugs, and medical devices safe and effective.
The bill includes $296 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. The CCC is not intended to allow USDA to completely bypass Congress in establishing new programs. Yet, USDA just can’t help themselves.
According to a recent article in Agri-Pulse, USDA intends to use the CCC to spend nearly $1.4 billion on trade programs and another $1.1 billion to pay for “commodity-based international food aid.” That sounds a lot like the Food for Peace program. Since USDA has provided $1.1 billion for food aid that will be distributed during FY24, the rule amendment reduces Food for Peace to $532.1 million.
This bill puts an end to the habitual abuse of the CCC. In doing so, the bill saves $1 billion in FY24 alone. Given that USDA used these discretionary powers to spend another $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 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 in May.
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. Keeping these increases on autopilot adds $1 billion to the program. 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.
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 them.
In closing, I ask for your support for this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Chair, I reserve the balance of my time.