September 29, 2019

September D.C. Update

Washington Roundup – September 2019

By: Lowell Randel

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Agriculture Appropriations Bill

On September 19th, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to consider the FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.  The bill was unanimously approved by a vote of 31-0.  The legislation recommends $151.7 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, which is $87 million below the FY2019 enacted level.  Discretionary funding in the bill totals $23.1 billion, which is $58 million above the FY2019 enacted level.

Total funding for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would be $3.172 billion.   ARS would receive $1.424 billion under the Senate version, which represents a $121 million increase over FY 2019 and $77 million above the House passed level.  This includes $41 million to support the transfer of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from DHS to USDA.  The Senate bill provides $304 million for ARS buildings and facilities, while the House version provides $50 million.  The bill also rejects proposed extramural research project terminations and laboratory closures included in the President’s budget request.

The Senate bill provides funding at FY 2019 levels for most NIFA accounts, including Sec. 1433 and the formula/capacity programs.  The Senate bill does not provide any funds for the newly established Agriculture Genome to Phenome Initiative that was included in the last Farm Bill.  The Senate version includes report language supporting the continuation of the Dual Use/Dual Benefit program, jointly administered by USDA and NIH.  ASAS has long supported this program and the continued support of both agencies.   The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive $425 million in the Senate bill, a $10 million increase over FY2019.  The House provides $460 for AFRI. 

A major difference between the House and Senate bills relates to the relocation of NIFA and ERS to Kansas City.  The House version would prohibit any funds in FY 2020 to be used for the relocation of the agencies.  The Senate version includes $25 million to support the move.  The issue of relocation will be hotly debated when it comes to conferencing the competing versions. 

A summary of key provisions is included below:

ACCOUNT                               FY 2019 – FINAL          FY 2020 House            FY 2020 Senate          

ARS Salaries and Expenses     $1.303 billion              $1.347 billion              $1.424 billion

ARS Buildings and Facilities    $381 million                $50 million                  $304.8 million

Hatch                                      $259 million                $265 million                $259 million

AFRI                                         $415 million                $460 million                $425 million

Sec. 1433                                $4 million                    $4 million                    $4 million

Smith Lever                             $315 million                $325 million                $315 million


Congress Passes Continuing Resolution

With the fiscal year ending on September 30th, Congress moved to avert a government shutdown by passing a short-term continuing resolution.  The measure, which will fund the government through November 21st, passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support and was signed by President Trump.  The continuing resolution will give the House and Senate more time to reconcile their differences on various spending bills, including agriculture appropriations.

American Grows Act Introduced

On September 10th, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 2458, the America Grows Act.  The bill would authorize a five percent annual funding increase over the next five years for research agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Authorization for appropriations for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service would be increased by five percent each year from FY 2020 through FY 2024.  In addition, the legislation would exempt appropriations under the America Grows Act from future budget sequestration.  ASAS joined over 90 organizations in supporting the legislation. 

While increased authority for appropriations does not guarantee additional funding, enactment of the legislation would provide an important signal that Congress recognizes the need for increased federal investment in agricultural research.  Actual funding amounts will still be determined through the annual appropriations process.