Resolved: That the United States should substantially change its federal agricultural policy.

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Source: CongressDaily/A.M., Oct 6, 2000 pNA.

Title: FY2001 Agriculture Bill Approved Over Partisan Discord.

Full Text COPYRIGHT 2000 National Journal Group, Inc.

WASHINGTON -- Oct-6 -- (CongressDaily) House and Senate conferees wrapped up a marathon two-day conference on the $79 billion FY2001 Agriculture appropriations bill late Thursday, finally adopting GOP-backed amendments on Cuba trade and travel policy and the reimportation of prescription drugs after lengthy and often partisan debate. The conference report, which includes more than $3.5 billion in emergency drought relief to farmers, is expected to be filed late today and head to the House floor as a stand-alone measure when Congress returns from the Yom Kippur/Columbus Day recess Tuesday.

With the Agriculture conference completed, GOP leaders let appropriators file the FY2001 Transportation conference report Thursday night and directed the Rules Committee to adopt a rule for same-day consideration of the Transportation bill today. The Senate is also expected to adopt the Transportation conference today and send it to the president for his expected signature.

The Cuba amendment ends the ban on sales of U.S. agricultural and medical products to Cuba, but also contains a provision that places the current restriction on American travel to Cuba in permanent law. The effect of the travel restriction would be that future U.S. presidents do not have the discretion to broaden travel beyond the educational humanitarian and business groups currently allowed

The Cuba provision passed over bitter opposition from Democratic conferees who claimed that it would not increase sales for U.S. farmers and would impose unacceptable travel restrictions on American citizens.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., proposed striking the travel restriction, but House Republican conferees refused to go along with the proposal. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, read into the record an article from a Thursday edition of a Havana newspaper that said Cuba "will not carry out any commercial transactions with the United States" if the travel ban becomes law.

A spokesman for the National Association of Wheat Growers expressed satisfaction at the vote Thursday and said that if the Havana statement is true, "it's disappointing."

Senate Agriculture Appropriations ranking member Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, both told CongressDaily they had not decided whether they would support the final bill.

But an aide to Senate Majority Leader Lott predicted the Agriculture bill "will get through" the Senate, although "there are always some questions people will ask."

Dems Unhappy About Reimportation

As for the equally contentious drug reimportation language, Democrats complained they were shut out of the final deal negotiated primarily by House Republican leaders and said all of their concerns with the language remained unresolved.

A senior Clinton administration source said the import provision was "unworkable in its present form," but declined to speculate on a possible veto threat, saying it was too early to tell. Senior White House aides and top congressional Democrats are expected to meet this morning to map out their strategy for next week's floor debate.

A GOP leadership aide, however, predicted the administration would likely sign the agriculture spending bill, but still beat up on Republicans for the partisan way they handled the negotiation process.

"This was an opportunity to try to do something and I thought we were working in a bipartisan way with the administration," Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said during the debate. "People are being choked by the cost of prescription drugs today."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., one of the Senate's most ardent advocates for reimportation, said earlier in the day that the process the Republican leadership took was not conducive to compromise: "It would be easier if we had a bipartisan group in there to try to reach a compromise," he said.

But Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., insisted that most of the discussions were bipartisan and the bill would go a long way towards giving people to access lower-cost prescription drugs by allowing wholesalers and pharmacists to compete with the pharmaceutical industry to import U.S.-made prescription drugs shipped to other countries for sale at lower prices.

She also said the language allows the secretary of HHS the flexibility to address Democrats' concerns, although House Appropriations Ranking Member David Obey, D-Wis., said this was "not exactly a thrilling message to take home."

Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., urged colleagues to vote for the amendment, even if it is not perfect, because "there is a reasonably good chance that this will bring lower-cost drugs into the U.S."

Democrats offered and lost amendments on party line votes to try to correct language they said would allow pharmaceutical firms to prevent importers from using their labels for product sales, eliminate the five-year sunset clause and address concerns that the industry would use contracts to discriminate against importers.

And while Senate Judiciary Chairman Hatch and House Judiciary Chairman Hyde had earlier raised antitrust and intellectual property concerns about the contracting restrictions on businesses in the amendment, a move to strike the provision was also defeated.

Ag Bill Contains Farm Aid

Earlier, the conferees approved an emergency $3.5 billion farm aid package that includes an amendment to liberalize eligibility requirements for food stamp recipients.

The conferees left in a provision to make all loans to sugar growers through 2002 non-recourse--meaning that the growers can pay off the loans by forfeiting their crop to the government-- despite vigorous opposition from House Appropriations Chairman Young.

Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., the author of the food stamp provision, said the CBO had estimated the cost at $300 million per year, or $1.5 billion over five years. His amendment raises the cap on the amount of money food stamp recipients are allowed to deduct when their eligibility for the program is calculated. It also allows the states to raise the value of a car a food stamp recipient can own above the current $4,500 and still retain eligibility.

Walsh said he introduced the shelter provision because the increase in the cost of home heating oil may cause increases in rents. He said the vehicle provision would permit the states to make the rules for cash welfare benefits and food stamp programs the same.

Young and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Joe Skeen, R-N.M., vigorously objected to Walsh's measure when he raised it. House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said he was "baffled by the position we find ourselves in. For a change [the food stamp measure] helps poor people. What has this Congress come to in the end if it going to help poor people?"

Young also objected to changing the sugar program so that USDA can make nonrecourse loans even if sugar imports have not reached 1.5 million short tons, as the farm bill requires. Young's major objection was that the provision was not in either the House or Senate bill, but appeared in the conference report and no member would publicly acknowledge authoring it.

Rep. Allan Boyd, D-Fla., led members in talking about the low prices sugar producers are experiencing.

At one point, Young was so frustrated at the number of amendments that he proposed adding the Everglades Restoration Act to the bill. Obey said the conference was turning from a "three- ring to a five-ring" circus and suggesting adjourning. Young suggested a half hour recess, the conference reconvened and Young withdrew his amendment.

Senate Approves Interior Bill

In other progress on appropriations Thursday, the Senate approved the FY2001 Interior Appropriations conference report Thursday, 83-13, enabling congressional leaders to send the measure to President Clinton for his signature this weekend.

The $18.8 billion bill was the product of weeks of negotiations between GOP appropriators and the White House. Clinton has promised to sign the bill. The Interior bill would be the third of 13 appropriations bills enacted this year.

Meanwhile, supporters of the $3 billion Conservation and Reinvestment Act continue negotiations on language to insert CARA-like language into another spending measure.

In other negotiations, the White House continues to meet with appropriators on the FY2001 VA-HUD Appropriations measure.

Environmentalists charge that the bill has been loaded with measures that would block or curtail a handful of important EPA regulations.

Republican leaders hope to have the VA-HUD bill, coupled with the District of Columbia appropriations bill, wrapped up this week in order to send it to the White House next week. -- Jerry Hagstrom, April Fulton, Lisa Caruso and Brody Mullins

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