Mikulski Remarks at Full Committee Markup of Ag Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the Full Committee markup of the fiscal year 2016 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Agriculture) bill.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Senators Moran and Merkley have done a good job with the spartan, sequester-based allocation.  But the bill is $1.1 billion short of the President’s request and $65 million below the fiscal year 2015 funding level.  Regrettably, by only providing sequester relief for the Department of Defense, the Republican budget leaves vital Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) programs without necessary resources.
“We need a new budget deal that ends sequester for defense and non-defense without gimmicks, and we need it soon.  Sending a bill to the President that he will veto just gets us back to the point where we are now – praying for a miracle when the Pope comes to town in September.
“I want to speed up the process.  But to do so, Congress needs to end sequester with a new, bipartisan budget deal in the spirit of Murray-Ryan.  Until then, Members on both sides of will blame the other side for shutdowns and slamdowns.
“The Agriculture bill makes critical investments in America’s crops, nutrition and food safety.  Researchers funded by the bill are finding new ways to meet the growing demand for food.  This includes the 1,800 people at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Service who are helping Maryland farmers grow better apples, improving vaccinations for poultry diseases, developing insect-repellant military clothing and analyzing dietary causes of obesity.
“The bill funds infrastructure in rural America, including housing and water and sewer systems.  This creates jobs while keeping people in their homes and providing safe water to drink.  I look forward to supporting the funding amendment Senator Merkley will offer later, which will help 117,000 people in small, rural communities get safe, clean water and support new jobs at the same time.
“We are currently battling an obesity crisis.  Obesity doesn’t just impact health – it is becoming a national security issue.  According to Mission Readiness, a nonprofit organization representing over 500 military leaders, nearly one-third of young people – between the age of 17 and 24 – aren’t fit to serve in the military because they are too overweight.
“While this bill helps feed children in schools, we need to do more to make sure children have access to healthy food year-round.  With the resources in Senator Merkley’s amendment, we could provide access to food for an additional half a million low-income children during the summer months when school is out.  This is a proven investment that has shown to help kids eat more healthy foods.
“The bill also feeds women, infants and children and supports their nutritional needs through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).  In Maryland alone, 142,000 low-income women and their children receive healthy food and prenatal education, each month.
“Finally, the bill protects our food and drug safety by funding the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA is the gold standard for drug, medical device and food safety, and supports 10,000 Maryland jobs.  The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was passed in 2011, was the most sweeping food safety bill in 70 years.  Now FDA doesn’t just react when people get sick, its mission is to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.
“But the FDA estimates that each year 3,000 people die from foodborne illness.  We must do better.  It is critical that Congress gives FDA the resources it needs to implement major portions of the Food Safety Modernization law as is provided for in Senator Merkley’s amendment.
“This bill truly helps Americans, farmers and consumers and I appreciate the efforts of Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Merkley.  But the bill is a status quo bill – instead of expanding programs that work, the bill funds them at the fiscal year 2015 level.  For example, the summer electronic benefits program, which allows low-income children to buy healthy food when school is out for the summer, only received $16 million – $50.9 million short of the $66.9 million request.
“This is a symptom of sequester-level budgeting.  Instead of doing what works, we do what we can.  And in the process, we hollow out America.  So I repeat my call for a new budget deal to raise the caps equally for defense and non-defense.  Our side is ready to come to the table.  We cannot wait for a manufactured crisis to act.”