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Agricultural, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

I am pleased today to introduce the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill. This is a very austere measure. Almost every category of funding is lower than last year -- and much lower than the year before. Setting aside disaster and security items that we dealt with in debt limit negotiations, discretionary spending in this bill is $200 million below 2011. Compared to 2010, it is $3.2 billion lower. That is equal to a 15% reduction compared to 2010.

In total discretionary spending is $20.046 billion. That figure includes nearly $300 million in disaster relief for hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, and other natural disasters. Altogether, discretionary spending is nearly $2 billion below the President's request and is consistent with our 302(b) allocation.

To achieve savings and develop a balanced bill, Senator Blunt and I had to set priorities. Among them was a goal to protect public health and safety -- including food safety. We made sure these activities are protected.

· We provided more than $1 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service so they can maintain current levels of inspection for meat and poultry.

· The bill includes almost $2.5 billion for the FDA, which is an increase of $50 million. Most of this increase is for food safety. FDA is the only agency or office funded by this bill at a higher level than last year.

An equally high priority is protecting the most vulnerable Americans from hunger. The WIC program, which historically accounts for more than one third of all discretionary spending in this bill, is funded at almost $6.6 billion. According to USDA, this level will support current participation levels.

We also protected other domestic feeding programs, including the Commodity Supplemental Food Program which is a lifeline for many elderly Americans. We believe it's especially important during these tough times to maintain nutrition program participation. We have done so in this bill.

Another priority worthy of protection is agricultural research. Without continued investment, food production in this country and around the globe will not be able to keep up with challenges posed by growing populations, climate change, invasive pests, and other threats. According to the Economic Research Service, global demand for food will grow 70 to 100 percent by 2050. To meet that demand, our production capacity will have to increase. Those increases will not happen without sustained emphasis on agricultural research. Senator Blunt and I have worked hard to protect these investments, often at the expense of other USDA programs.

One of the most important discussions in Congress today revolves around job creation. This bill includes more than $2 billion for Rural Development loans and grants. These programs help launch and grow small businesses. They help rural communities build water and sewer lines which, of course, are essential to economic development. They help improve small town fire stations and health care clinics. They support rural housing. These projects are important and Senator Blunt and I have provided funding to help protect and create jobs in rural America.

Two of our programs -- PL 480 and the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program -- fall within the security category of discretionary spending and play a very important role in fighting world hunger. Right now, the Horn of Africa is under a state of declared famine and the lives of millions of men, women, and children are at grave risk. Food aid is all that stands between life and death for these people, and I am glad to report that we were able to provide a slight increase in PL 480 above last year. However, we must closely monitor events in Africa and elsewhere since the funding level for these programs in this bill remain below the 2010 levels.

This bill funds the priorities I have described above as well as conservation, marketing, trade, and many others important to the American people. In spite of the challenges we faced, I believe Senator Blunt and I have provided the proper balance for the programs in this bill. I want to thank him for his help and his guidance. This was his first year as the Ranking Member of this subcommittee and he has been very helpful.

As I said at the outset, this bill is very austere. The choices we made were difficult. But I strongly believe they were the correct ones. I urge every Senator to support this bill and I hope we can conclude floor action in a timely manner so we can proceed to conference with the House and send the bill to the President. USDA and FDA are now operating on a continuing resolution and we need to provide them final spending levels for this fiscal year just as soon as we can.

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