The Committee voted to provide $17.005 billion in discretionary funding in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, $873 million less than the FY03 spending level of $17.877 billion and $136 million less than the $17.141 billion in President Bush’s FY04 spending proposal.

As with all legislation, the FY04 ag appropriations bill is a hodge-podge of spending increases and decreases that represent wins and losses for various agricultural interest groups.

The bill contains no funding for the Conservation Security Program, the brainchild of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, which was supposed to be part of a major shift in emphasis to conservation programs in the 2002 farm bill.

Although Appropriations Committee Republicans said the bill increases overall discretionary funding for conservation programs by $30.4 million or $146.4 million more than the president requested, Democrats said the bill actually reduces funding by $130 million.

“This bill is a size seven shoe for a size 10 foot,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and the ranking minority member on the committee. She also complained that the bill includes a $63 million reduction in spending on biofuel research. All told, USDA would receive $60.488 billion in the so-called mandatory spending category under the Fiscal Year 2004 committee proposal. That would be up from $56.705 in mandatory spending in FY03 and is the same amount the president requested in his budget proposal.

In one of its most controversial sections, the bill prohibits USDA from spending money to implement the farm bill’s country-of-origin labeling law for meat and meat products.

Other highlights include:

  • Farm Service Agency salaries and expenses are increased by $46 million over last year to continue delivery of the farm ownership and farm operating loan programs. Total funding is $1.017 billion, the same as the President's request.
  • Agricultural credit program loan authorizations are decreased by $551.4 million below last year. Total loan authorization level is $3.386 billion, $132.8 million below the President's request.
  • Rural Housing loan authorizations total loan authorization level is $4.365 billion, $208.7 million above last year, and $45.7 million above the President's request.
  • Farm Labor Housing is funded at $36.3 million, $1.3 million above the President's request.
  • Rental assistance programs are increased by $9.7 million over last year. Total funding is $731 million, $9 million below the President's request.
  • Rural Electric and Telephone loans are funded at a total loan authorization level of $4.655 billion, $911 million below last year, and $1.52 billion above the President's request.
  • Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program total loan authorization is $636 million, $256 million above last year, and $250 million above the President's request.
  • Agricultural Research Service is funded at $1.05 billion, a decrease of $103.9 million below last year (excluding last year's supplemental), and an increase of $38.6 million above the President's request.
  • Risk Management Agency/Federal Crop Insurance Corporation: RMA is funded at $71.5 million, an increase of $1.26 million above last year and a decrease of $6.979 million below the President's request. The Corporation (Mandatory) is funded at $3.368 billion, an increase of $482 million above last year, and the same as the President's request
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