Pryor, Blunt urge passage of agriculture spending bill

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, on Wednesday encouraged colleagues to work with them to approve a $20.6 billion agriculture spending bill that includes funding for the National Center for Toxicological Research near Pine Bluff.

Pryor and Blunt said the bill is important for farmers and rural America.

“It’s a no-brainer. This is a bipartisan, good, commonsense, solid piece of legislation,” Pryor said on the Senate floor.

The Senate voted 95-3 Tuesday to begin debate on a trio of appropriations bills — agriculture, transportation and commerce — that have been stitched together with the hopes of completing action on some of the less controversial spending bills for the next fiscal year that begins in October.

Pryor said in an earlier release that he secured $63,331,000 in funding to support the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson County, an increase of $4.333 million over the president’s request for the 2015 fiscal year.

Pryor and Blunt head the appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and helped steer their spending bill through the full committee last month with unanimous support.

“We made some difficult decisions in drafting this bill. It’s $90 million below last year’s bill,” Blunt said. “We prioritized programs to protect public health and maintain and strengthen our agriculture economy.”

Pryor said that agriculture accounts for 25 percent of Arkansas’ economic output and supports one in six jobs in the state. Blunt said the same was true in Missouri, where 16 percent of the workforce is tied to farming.

While satisfied with the underlying bill, the two lawmakers said they are eager to consider amendments from colleagues.

“Yes, we want to talk to senators about amendments,” Pryor said.

Blunt said he was pleased that Democratic leaders were allowing for amendments to be taken up on the floor.

“Seldom is a bill so perfect that it cannot be improved and there is nothing wrong with having to defend the decisions you have made,” he said.

Debate on the bill will likely stretch into next week.

In an interview off the Senate floor, Pryor said that noncontroversial amendments would likely be rolled into a single bundle for approval.

He was not sure how many other amendments might be considered.

“Right now we are not hearing rumors of a lot of amendments but they could accumulate very quickly. We just don’t know yet,” he said.

In addition to the NCTR funding, Pryor said there were a few items in the bill of special interest to Arkansas. The bill would prohibit Farm Service Agency offices from being closed and has $60,000 in disaster assistance for Scott County where flooding occurred last year.