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HOUSE APPROVES BILL TO AVOID GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN, FREEZE SPENDING
Agri-Pulse reports:

The House approved legislation Wednesday, on a 267-151 vote, which would continue funding for federal government departments, including the Agriculture Department, through FY 2013.

The move would avert a government shutdown on March 27, and includes flexibility for the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to decide how to apply its sequestration cuts.

However, the bill does not grant that flexibility to the USDA and other departments, which would still face line-item cuts of between 5 percent and 9 percent.

The $982 billion stopgap bill (H.R. 933) received support from 214 Republicans and 53 Democrats. Opposing were 137 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

The funding levels for all departments would remain at FY 2012 levels, less the sequestration cuts.

"The House has taken the first step towards assuring the American people that the federal government will stay open, which President Obama agrees should be our shared goal," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "This legislation is straightforward and reasonable, protecting national defense and helping our veterans while maintaining the president's sequester, which Republicans continue to support replacing because there are better ways to cut spending."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the bill does not "address the irrational cuts to defense and non-defense that the sequester will require."

"It could be very harmful to our economy and to our national security and place the most vulnerable in America at great risk," Hoyer said. "We should not allow, my colleagues, our government to shut down. But we cannot do business this way, lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next."

While the legislation would leave in place sequestration cuts to the USDA, several programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Conservation Reserve Program and crop insurance are all exempt.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has repeatedly said the sequestration will lead to a reduction in food safety inspections and other cuts. Vilsack has said furlough notices for many USDA employees will be sent out this week.

The House will now send the bill to the Senate, which will not take it up.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he plans to bring up a Senate version, drafted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., during the week of March 11.


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