Committee OKs Cuba travel amendment

The FY 2004 agricultural appropriations bill includes an amendment offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., allowing travel between the United States and Cuba to promote agricultural trade between the two countries. Last year, the Bush administration placed new restrictions on such travel.

The legislation now goes to the full Senate, which could act on it as early as next week. Congressional leaders are trying to pass as many appropriations bills as possible prior to its Aug. 4 recess.

No amendments were offered on payment limits, but that doesn’t mean the issue is dead, according to congressional sources.

“We expect that a payment limit amendment will be offered when the bill reaches the Senate floor,” said a Senate subcommittee staff member. The Senate approved tighter payment limits in its version of the 2002 farm bill.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also made no changes in the funding levels for the farm bill’s Conservation Security Program, one of the centerpieces of its conservation title. The House version of the FY 2004 ag appropriations bill removed $53 million in funding for the CSP.

Midwestern senators are also expected to try to restore the funding for implementing Country-of-Origin Labeling for meat and meat products that was also eliminated from the House bill. Those and other funding differences will have to be reconciled when the appropriations bills reach a House-Senate conference committee.

Among the highlights of the $77.5 billion bill:

Under Title I – Agricultural programs

  • -- The bill provides $988.8 million for Farm Service Agency Salaries and Expenses, an increase of $18.4 million over the fiscal year 2003 level. The bill provides an estimated $3.3 billion for farm loans, $663,585 less than the fiscal year 2003 level. Included in this amount is $1.1 billion for farm ownership direct and guaranteed loans and $2.1 billion for farm operating direct and guaranteed loans.
  • Funding for the Food Safety and Inspection Service is $783.8 million, a $28.9 million increase from the fiscal year 2003 level. Agricultural research and extension programs are decreased $172 million from the fiscal year 2003 funding levels. Appropriations recommended for the Agricultural Research Service total $1.1 billion. For the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, $1.1 billion is recommended, including $618 million for research and education activities, $450 million for extension activities, and $46.7 million for integrated activities.
  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which operates the federal portion of cotton’s boll weevil eradication programs, is funded at $711.3 million.
  • The Agricultural Marketing Service is funded at $75.3 million and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is funded at $35.6 million.
Under Title II – Conservation programs:
  • Recommended funding for conservation operations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service is $826.6 million.
  • Watershed and flood prevention operations are funded at $55 million. Watershed surveys and planning is funded at $10 million.
  • The watershed rehabilitation program is funded at $29.8 million. The resource conservation and development program is funded at $51 million.
The bill also includes funding for the Foreign Agricultural Service of $131.7 million.

Public Law 480 programs are funded at the following program levels: Title I - $131.7 million credit level, the same as the budget request level; and Title II - $1.2 billion, an increase of $7 million from the budget request. A new account has been created for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and child Nutrition Program, which is funded at $25 million.

The Committee also said it supports the mandatory funding level of $1 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

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