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Thursday June 16, 2011 | 03:45 PM

There’s more bad news than good news for Maine farmers and those needing federal nutrition assistance in the 2012 agriculture spending bill, charge Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud.

Maine’s two House members joined all other Democrats, and 19 Republicans, in voting against a $125.5 billion spending bill that passed this afternoon by a narrow 217-203 margin.

The bill funding the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and other related federal agencies cut more than $7 billion from President Obama’s 2012 budget request. There likely will be major changes, however, when the Senate tackles its version, leaving much work to be done later in the year when the House and Senate have to reach agreement on a final spending bill.

GOP Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, said the agriculture spending bill “answers the call from Americans to reduce government spending while still providing for critical programs that keep American agriculture competitive in a global economy. The funding in this bill will help our rural communities to thrive, provide daily nutrition to children and families across the country, and keep our food and drug supply safe.”

That’s not the way Democrats like Pingree, 1st district, and Michaud, 2nd distirct, saw it.

 They both slammed what they charge will be harmful cuts to the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, for one thing.

“We need to reduce the deficit but instead of doing it on the backs of mothers, children and seniors, why don’t we ask big corporations and wealthy taxpayers to pay their fair share?” Pingree said.

Michaud said the bill also cuts funding for research into major Maine crops such as potatoes and blueberries.

Michaud also singled out for criticism a cut to the budget for the federal agency that oversees oil markets, saying it is the wrong time to scale back the Commodities Futures Trading Commission  in the face of rising gas prices, some of which, Michaud charged, comes from “Wall Street speculation.”

Michaud said he was pleased that an amendment was beat back that attempted to block the agriculture department from extending the time to consider comments on a proposed final rule limiting school lunch program servings of potatoes, something Maine lawmakers have been fighting for some time.

Still, Michaud said that, “While I’m pleased the amendment that threatened our potato industry was withdrawn, I couldn’t vote for a bill that directly targeted Maine priorities for severe cuts.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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