Congress passed last Saturday a $1.1 trillion year-end spending bill that will fund the federal government through September 2015. The bill, dubbed “Cromnibus” because it combined a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running with the omnibus spending bill, now awaits the President’s signature.
For agriculture, in total, the bill provides $20.6 billion in discretionary funding, including the national feeding program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the salaries and expenses of the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency to carry out the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes the new Dairy Margin Protection Program.
A number of non-funding policy riders included in the bill are of interest to the dairy industry. One of the riders offers recommendations to USDA on how to fix the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program for meat to meet international trade obligations and avoid future trade penalties.
The bill also provides increased funding for the Food and Drug Administration at $2.6 billion, which includes new funding to implement the inspection requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Flexibility in Sodium Restrictions
Regarding child nutrition, the bill allows some flexibility in phasing in stricter sodium restrictions in school meal regulations. This provision will make it easier for schools to serve entrees that incorporate foods such as cheese and still meet the current lower sodium requirements. The bill also allows "all varieties of fresh vegetables, including white potatoes, as eligible for purchase" through the WIC program, undoing a restriction that excluded potatoes last spring.
A Senate provision that would have accelerated USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO) hearing process was not included. IDFA opposed the provision as an unnecessary congressional micro management of the current FMMO rules.
Also included in the Cromnibus was a bipartisan provision offered by House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and retiring Rep. George Miller (D-CA) that reforms multi-employer pensions. The provision, which closely mirrors the proposal by the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, would give multi-employer pension plans the flexibility they need to keep financially troubled pension plans from failing.
It also includes reforms that will protect taxpayers and provide trustees with new tools to save troubled plans, and adds important consumer safeguards that will give participants in these plans a voice to protect the most vulnerable retirees.
For more information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at email@example.com.