On Thursday night, the Senate gave final approval to three of the 12 annual appropriations bills to fund federal programs and projects in FY2012.

UPDATE: President Obama signed the legislation on Friday.

The Senate gave final congressional approval to a so-called “minibus” appropriations package (HR.2112) that includes the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Bill.

The package also includes a continuing resolution through Dec. 16 to fund federal agencies and programs until Congress deals with the remaining nine funding bills.  The Senate passed HR.2112 on a 70 to 30 vote.  It will now be sent to President Obama to be signed.

Sen. Cochran, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, supported the measure, which includes programs important to Mississippi, but expressed regret that the FY2012 appropriations process has been waylaid by unrelated matters in Congress, including this summer’s extended debate over the national debt limit.

“These bills support a wide range of important federal government activities while adhering to the spending restraints placed by the Budget Control Act the Congress approved this summer,” said Cochran, who served on the conference committee that reconciled differences in the House and Senate versions of the three appropriations bills.

The continuing resolution provides Congress with another short window in which to try to approve the nine appropriations bills that still require passage.

“I don’t know how or when the Congress will actually be able to complete action on all the remaining appropriations bills, but everyone should know that this committee has done everything within our power to try to get the Senate to move quickly but carefully to approve the remaining bills,” Cochran said. “I’m confident the House and Senate will work together in the coming weeks to complete our negotiations on these and other appropriations bills that will comply with the guidance set out in the Budget Control Act.”

Cochran noted that the Budget Control Act restrictions on discretionary funding will bring discretionary spending, as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, to the lowest levels since the Eisenhower administration.

Related to emergency disaster funding, HR.2112 also obeys provisions in the Budget Control Act that allow Congress to provide emergency funding for recovery from natural disasters, including the tornadoes and floods that struck Mississippi this year.

For Mississippi, Cochran reported that the final bill provides funding for federal programs in the state. The FY2012 THUD Appropriations Bill, for example, retained the Senate’s recommendation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration’s Essential Air Service (EAS) program which supports passenger air service at the Greenville, Hattiesburg/Laurel, Meridian and Tupelo airports.

The measure appropriates $143 million for the EAS program in FY2012 and authorizes the $50.0 million in mandatory funding derived from so-called “overflight fees” to support commercial passenger service at eligible airports. This funding is $6.7 million less than FY2011 funding. Cochran supported reform provisions to curtail the cost of the program, in addition to language that would allow continued federal support for air service at airports currently undergoing air carrier changes.

The following is a brief review of some highlights in the “minibus” spending package that are of interest to Mississippi:

Agriculture, Rural Development &Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Bill.

This is a $136 billion measure that includes $116.8 billion for mandatory funding that is primarily linked to increases in the use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). SNAP participation in FY2012 is expected to increase to 47.1 million over the estimated 45 million now receiving this assistance.

  • Disaster Funding: $122.7 million for the Emergency Conservation Program, $215.9 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, and $28.4 million for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. These programs have been used by Mississippians, for example, to address flood damage to agricultural lands.
  • Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and National Institute of Food & Agriculture: While these research program accounts are reduced in general by 2 percent below FY2011 levels, the formula funding for land grant universities, historically black universities and 1994 institutions are maintained at FY2011 levels. Overall, the conference agreement provides $1.09 billion for ARS and $1.2 b million for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • ARS Extramural Research Programs: The committee rejected the president’s budget proposal to eliminate ARS extramural research programs, instead providing funding for research carried out at the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
  •  Food Safety and Inspection Service: $1 billion, slightly lower than the FY2011 level. The bill includes a provision directing the agency to continue implementation of the catfish inspection rule.
  • Rural Development: Within USDA Rural Development, $2.9 million is provided for the Delta Regional Authority and $3.0 is provided for a competitive grant program for health care services in the Delta region.
  • Food and Drug Administration: With funding for the FDA, $2.49 million is approved for the University of Mississippi Center of Excellence for dietary supplemental research. This facility is the only one in the nation that conducts this research. Overall, the bill provides $2.5 billion for the FDA in FY2012, a $49 million increase over FY2011.

Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill. 

This is a $52.7 billion measure that is $583 million below FY2011 and $4.9 billion below the president's budget request. The committee eliminated more than two dozen programs and pared nearly all accounts below current funding levels.

NASA– $17.8 billion, $648 million below FY2011, with priorities placed on science and human exploration.

Science– $5.1 billion, a $155 million increase over FY2011 and $73 million over the budget request.

Exploration– $3.7 billion, $29.8 million below FY2011, including:

  • Heavy Lift Rocket: $1.8 billion, the same as FY2011, for heavy lift rocket development and testing. Stennis Space Center is involved in this work.
  • Commercial Crew: $406 million, an increase of $99 million over FY2011.
  • Aeronautics: $569.9 million, $35.9 million below FY2011.
  • Space Technology: $575 million to support technologies to enable future NASA exploration and science missions.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)– $4.89 billion, a $310 million increase above FY2011. The bill includes funding for various programs, including Regional Geospatial Modeling, Marine Aquaculture Lab Operations, and the National Sea Grant College Program.  Cochran supported language in the bill to improve NOAA preparedness and response to incidents like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.