Ranking Member Bishop Floor Remarks on the 2024 Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA Funding Bill

2023-09-26 20:46
Statement

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA-02), Ranking Member of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks on the House Floor in opposition to H.R. 4368, the fiscal year 2024 Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA Funding bill:

Every day, when I anticipate the Agriculture appropriations bill coming to the floor, I wake up with my usual admonition that “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

But today, as we take up this Agriculture bill, it stretches my faith to say that this is a good day because I rise in very, very strong opposition to H.R. 4368.

As the Ranking Member of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, I am extremely disappointed to see this bill does not meet the needs of Americans who rely on this funding to ensure safe food and medicines, healthy and resilient farmlands, and strong rural infrastructure.

The programs contained in the Agriculture funding bill are important for all Americans, and they affect our country in so many ways:

These programs help Americans by helping American farmers produce the highest quality, safest, most abundant, and most economical food and fiber in the world, through assistance provided by the Farm Service Agency in almost every county in America.

They help future generations by funding conservation practices which preserve our farmland and our natural resources for the years to come.

These programs are essential to those who live in rural areas and ensure quality of life through access to clean drinking water, electricity, telecommunication, broadband, sewer infrastructure, and housing.

They help feed every American – including our most vulnerable families, children, and seniors in difficult times.

They fund USDA meat and poultry inspectors and FDA inspectors of all other food products, so that the food on American’s tables is safe and nutritious.

It funds the CFTC and the Farm Credit Administration, so this bill affects our financial space.

I cannot think of a subcommittee with as broad a reach as our bill has. And a bill with such a reach deserves to have these programs adequately funded.

However, the bill passed in our full committee markup only provided $17.8 billion in funding, which takes us back to the 2007 funding level.

That is entirely inadequate for the needs of the American people, and it had no chance of being passed into law when it came out of committee.

Unfortunately, rather than moving in a more productive direction, the majority used a procedural gimmick to impose even greater cuts of 69% to the Food for Peace Program and 14.2% to all other discretionary programs. Instead of improving the bill, the Rules Committee made it even worse.

In total, the cuts to the bill have reduced funding 41 percent lower than last year. The bill before us today will take us back to 2001 levels. That is totally irresponsible.

The bill would harm rural America by taking money from programs supporting rural communities, such as:

It cuts $500 million from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and it eliminates grants under the program, which will raise energy costs for over 15,000 rural farmers and small businesses.

It takes $1 billion from Rural Electric Cooperatives – 900 cooperatives that serve over 40 million people in 48 states.

It slashes $800 million from the WIC program – which drastically also cuts cash value voucher benefit for fruit and vegetable purchases, affecting nearly 5 million hungry women and children.

It strips loan assistance needed by 100,000 economically distressed farmers which could literally cost folks the family farm!

It cuts Rural Development programs by over 40%, which means thousands of rural families will no longer be able to get a loan to afford a home, hundreds of projects meant to provide clean water and wastewater systems will be eliminated, and thousands of families will not be able to turn on the tap and count on drinkable water.

It completely guts the Food for Peace international food aid program. It cuts the McGovern Dole Program by 14%, which will further exacerbate the global hunger and instability and the risk of conflicts abroad, which will weaken American security.

This bill also strips the Secretary (of Agriculture), as you have heard, of discretionary use of the Commodity Credit Corporation funding.

The CCC is a tool to benefit, authorized by law, to benefit our farmers and the thousands of church and community food banks that it helps to fund, no matter which party is in the White House. The only folks that suffer when any administration is not allowed to use the CCC at its discretion are our ag producers and American families.

Our farmers benefited tremendously under the Trump Administration when the Secretary of Agriculture, Purdue, used the CCC to give our farmers relief from the trade wars with China.

As I look at it, the path this bill has taken so far, and how the proposed amendments we will see tonight, would make it even worse.

I ask myself:

For any farmers watching tonight who are trying to do what is best for their land, their business, and their family, what will they see?

For people in rural communities facing the challenges of providing clean water, affordable housing, and dependable utilities, what will they see?

For those same communities trying to ensure their law enforcement and first responders have the vehicles, communications equipment, and the other resources they need to keep their communities safe, what will they see?

For struggling families trying to put food on the table for their children, what will they see?

Sadly, if those Americans are watching us tonight, what they will see is a majority that is focused on overriding medical science, to take away a woman’s freedom to control her own reproductive health choices, but not a majority focused on ensuring those women and their children are able to afford food.

They saw a majority focused on an undefined, so-called Critical Race Theory while pushing this bill to jeopardize the safety of our food and our medicine, slowing down our supply chain, and ironically – making these things harder to get and more expensive to buy.

Make no mistake, the majority would have a person watching at home to believe that this bill fights against some undeserving citizens who do not need the help. But the hard truth is that this bill is a nuclear bomb against the needs of every single American.

The majority wants the people distracted by their culture war while they cut the crucial programs that every American depends on for the safest, highest quality, the most affordable food, fiber, and medicine in the world.

And it appears that tonight we will see more amendments from the majority that further push the bill in a terribly harmful direction.

It astonishes me that we are four days away from government shutdown, yet we are not debating a bipartisan bill to keep the government open.

Instead, we are debating an extreme messaging bill that does nothing to bring us closer to the bipartisan agreement we will need to eventually pass a full-year government spending bill.

I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill. And I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft a responsible bill which meets the needs of all Americans.

I would like to thank my personal staff, including Tynesha Boomer, and the subcommittee staff, including Martha Foley, Alex Swann, and Tyler Coe for their hard work on this bill.

I would like to thank the majority staff for their efforts, but I pray that the majority members of Congress and the majority in Congress will have an epiphany and deliver a much better work product to the American people by the end of this funding process.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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118th Congress