The House of Representatives passed legislation to fund federal agencies through the end of fiscal year 2011, cutting the Women Infant and Children budget by $750 million, jeopardizing fruit and vegetable vouchers in that program.

The legislative wrangling over discretionary funds in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and other federal agency budgets isn’t over, however. The Senate must produce their own budget bill and reconcile it with the House version.

House proposal slashes WIC, other USDA programs

With authority to fund the government expiring March 4, observers believe Congress may pass another short-term extension — perhaps until mid-March or later — to allow work to be finished on the fiscal year 2011 budget.

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., House Appropriations chairman, said H.R. 1 includes the largest single discretionary spending cut in the history of the nation, eliminating $100 billion compared with the White House budget. More than $5 billion was pared from the USDA and FDA alone, including more than $1 billion from USDA nutrition programs.

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said the proposed cuts to WIC could threaten fresh produce vouchers, which were approved in 2009. The total WIC budget in fiscal year 2010 was close to $8 billion, USDA reports indicate.

“I don’t think anybody expects the Senate to go as far as the House did,” she said. “This could go right down to the wire.”

Republican lawmakers said the cuts were only the beginning.

“(This) will mark the beginning of a new trend of reductions that will take place throughout the next year,” Rogers said in a news release.

Lawmakers passed 67 of more than 580 amendments to H.R.1. Though produce advocates had been concerned about an amendment that would eliminate export promotion dollars in the Market Access Program, that was left intact. An amendment the industry had rallied against that would have shut down seeking an expansion of cross-border trucking with Mexico was withdrawn.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Registry, which collects data on industrial greenhouse gas emissions, lost $8.4 million through a successful amendment. The House also approved an amendment blocking EPA funding to impose Florida water quality standards. Nine amendments taking away funding for President Obama’s health care reform law also passed.

With Senate action waiting, it’s uncertain how Congress will deal with the fiscal year 2011 budget, said Tom O’Brien, the Washington, D.C., representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Congress may give itself a couple of extra weeks on the budget, said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The friction about the 2011 budget means more conflict ahead, he said.

“They will spend all the way until April arguing about the current year, it is going to be that much harder to get fiscal year 2012 taken care of,” Hoefner said.

“Everybody is worried about mandatory funding for the next round,” DiSogra said. “I don’t want to go backwards.”

Hoefner said the House-proposed cuts are so extreme at USDA that he doubts they can be done in seven months.

“I think the Senate will try to correct some of that,” he said. “They want to cut 22% of the budget in half the fiscal year,” he said. “It’s beyond imagination really.”

Cuts made in H.R. 1 to the energy and conservation programs for the 2008 farm bill suggest the entire farm bill could be up for debate when the fiscal year 2012 budget is considered, Hoefner said.