Partisan tensions boiled over at a House Ag Appropriations hearing as the GOP battled USDA over the President’s proposed budget and regulations. The gloves came off immediately as Chair Andy Harris accused Secretary Tom Vilsack of overstepping his authority on SNAP and the CCC, undermining the Packers and Stockyards Act, and putting climate and equity programs ahead of farmers.
The two crossed swords as Harris charged USDA used CCC as a “slush fund” for its Climate Smart Commodities Program.
“This is my time.” Vilsack “I’m responding to your comments, Mr. Chairman. I don’t think they’re fair.” Harris “How ‘bout responding to my questions.” Vilsack “Well, ask a question.” Harris “Mr. Secretary, you have the Constitution of the United States backward. Article I is the legislative branch. Article II is the executive branch. The executive branch is responsible to the legislative branch, not the other way around. Thank you.” Vilsack “I don’t see it that way. Separation of Powers—we’re equal in our democracy, Mr. Chairman.”
Panel Democrats prodded Vilsack to defend the 2024 Biden USDA budget against GOP proposed cuts back to 2022 levels.
“You’re essentially looking at 84-thousand producers, not being able to access the technical assistance that they need to do the conservation work that they want to do. If you talk about food safety, you’re talking about literally thousands of food inspectors that we would not be able to continue to have, which would significantly cripple our ability to expand competition and provide better prices for farmers. On the nutrition side, it would make it difficult for us to provide WIC benefits for somewhere between 250-thousand participants every month to over a million.”
Reflecting rising tensions in a standoff over spending and borrowing that if unresolved by summer could delay a farm bill or even cause a U.S. default.
Separately, the Senate voted 53-43, joining the House to disapprove the controversial Biden ‘Waters of the US’ or WOTUS rule, a disapproval Biden vows to veto. That as sparks continued to fly in the House.
“Why in the world would you issue the WOTUS rule when a major case is before the Supreme Court?” That was the comment from Environment Appropriations Chair Mike Simpson to EPA chief Michael Regan who responded; “There was nothing for us to wait on because the previous rule had been vacated by multiple courts. And so, what we decided to do was move forward, to try to codify a number of exemptions that were requested of us by the agricultural community, and I obviously respect the Supreme Court’s position. I will respect the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
And Regan says they’ll adjust the Biden rule and move ahead “expeditiously” versus waiting until June to start a brand-new two-to-three-year WOTUS rulemaking.