U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) this week voted with the Senate Appropriations Committee to advance its first two appropriations measures for FY2014 -- bills that restore funding for agriculture research and increase funding for veterans' care.
The full committee met Thursday to approve a top-line spending limit for FY2014 appropriations measures before turning to consideration of the FY2014 Agriculture and Rural Development Appropriations Bill and the FY2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Bill.
Cochran supported a proposal by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to cap overall FY2014 discretionary spending at $967 billion, which adheres to legal spending limits set by law in the Budget Control Act of 2010 (BCA) and represents post-sequester limits. The majority instead adopted an allocation plan establishing a $1.058 trillion top-line level that exceeds BCA levels by $91 billion.
"Sooner or later, we will have to deal with the discrepancy between spending limitations set in law and higher spending levels requested by President Obama and supported by this committee's majority. I hope the Senate and House will come together to provide a responsible discretionary spending level that enables us to make difficult, well-informed choices instead of subjecting all programs to formulaic sequester cuts," said Cochran, the vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
"I will continue to work with my colleagues to move the appropriations bills forward with the understanding that this overriding problem must be resolved," he said.
The committee-approved FY2014 Agriculture Appropriations Bill would continue to fund agriculture research activities that involve universities and colleges in Mississippi. The President's FY2014 budget request recommended ending funding for many important Agriculture Research Service Extramural Research Program activities. That recommendation would have ended research carried out at the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
The FY2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill includes Cochran-authored language that would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to report to Senate and House appropriations committees on its resolution of management and patient care issues at the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson. Overall, the bill also creates a "10-Point Action Plan" to give the Department of Veterans Affairs additional tools to address the backlog of veteran disability compensation claims.
The following are brief reviews of highlights for Mississippi in the two bills approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday. Funding figures are based on subcommittee allocations derived from the higher $1.058 trillion caps approved by the committee.
FY2014 Agriculture & Rural Development Appropriations Bill
* Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and National Institute of Food & Agriculture Research Programs (NIFA): $1.23 billion is approved for ARS and $1.27 billion for NIFA. The bill increases formula research, cooperative forestry and extension programs for land grant universities and historically black colleges and universities. In addition, it provides a $33.5 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
* ARS Extramural Research Programs: As it did last year, the committee again rejected the President's budget proposal to eliminate ARS extramural research programs, instead continuing funding for research carried out by several Mississippi universities. It also funds a new forest products research grant.
* Food Safety and Inspection Service: $1.17 billion is approved, including restoration of poultry inspection program reductions sought in the President's budget request. It also directs the Department to continue implementation of the Catfish Inspection Program.
* Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Within APHIS funding, $12.7 million is provided for Cotton Pests. In addition, the committee did not accept a budget request to reduce wildlife service accounts, which should help support Mississippi State University training programs. The bill also includes report language directing APHIS to resume the aquaculture damage management program for catfish producers.
* Rural Development: Within USDA Rural Development, $5.0 million is provided for the Delta Regional Authority and $3.0 million is provided for a competitive grant program for rural health care services.
* Food and Drug Administration: Within funding for the FDA, the committee maintains FY2012 level funding, $2.49 million, 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.
FY2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill
* Veterans Affairs: The overall bill provides $147.9 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $84.5 billion for mandatory programs and $63.4 billion in discretionary funding (includes $54.3 billion in previously appropriated advances for veterans' medical care). The bill provides $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for veterans' medical care in FY2014. This funding will support VA compensation and benefits to veterans, including pensions, education, vocational rehabilitation, life insurance and housing loan programs.
* VA Rural Health: $250 million to continue the Rural Health Initiative to close gaps in VA service in rural and remote areas. This initiative supports, for example, telehealth and mobile clinics.
* Armed Forces Retirement Home: $67.8 million from the Armed Forces Retirement Home Trust Fund to operate the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., and the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss.
* Military Construction: $10.7 billion for military construction in FY2014.