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Senate Vote on Agriculture Funding Bill Delayed Twice by Partisan Wrangling

The $180-billion “minibus” package of appropriations bills to fund agriculture and other government programs for fiscal 2015 was pulled from the Senate floor Thursday afternoon by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) after his attempt failed to require 60 votes to adopt any amendments.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected to the so-called “supermajority” requirement and is also opposed to the administration’s plan to limit carbon emissions from coal plants, which was originally scheduled to come to the Senate floor Thursday as part of the Department of Energy budget.

McConnell is up for reelection this year and comes from a major coal-producing state, and Reid and his Democratic colleagues were trying to head off a potentially successful move on McConnell’s part to force a negative vote on the new emissions rules. Reid also canceled a separate committee vote Thursday on energy and water projects.

“Not only do we not get votes on the floor, we don’t get votes in committee either,” McConnell was quoting as saying on the Senate floor. “When do we start legislating again? What’s happened to the United States Senate?”

While Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed disappointment in the second vote postponement this week on the funding package, she indicated that she hoped for a resolution in the near future, perhaps next week. Mikulski had made the call Wednesday night to delay a floor vote on the massive spending bill for similar reasons as those behind Reid’s action on Thursday.

Highlights of the Senate funding bill include $1.023 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is $12 million above the FY 2014 level; $1.139 billion for the Agricultural Research Service ($17 million above FY 2014); $2.588 billion for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is $36 million above FY 2014 (this amount also includes $23 million for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act), and $1.5 million for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General to “increase oversight of the programs and operations at the FDA.”

The House of Representatives has debated but still not passed a funding measure for either USDA or FDA, which is part of HHS. Republican House members were reportedly in disarray after the June 10 primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Canton (R-VA), but his successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), was elected Thursday, so the path toward a House vote may have cleared.

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