The latest salvo in what's looking to be a summer of sparring over spending? Eggs.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer is using rocketing egg prices to rip the GOP's domestic spending tourniquet — one of many kitchen-table arguments we're told to expect from Democrats ahead of a potential Sept. 30 shutdown showdown.
At his weekly Sunday news conference, the New York Democrat highlighted recent news of an outbreak of bird flu that has led to tens of millions of chickens being slaughtered and thus, an unusually limited supply of eggs. Schumer said the proposed Republican budget for the Agriculture Department includes cuts of about a half-billion dollars.
"Here's what the USDA's program does. First, it's funding to help pay for a vaccination against bird flu so the birds will never get it. Second, it's used for biosecurity measures, to help poultry owners stop the spread. When one chicken comes down with it, what do they do quickly to prevent the spread to others," Schumer said Sunday outside a New York City grocery store, according to NY1 . "And finally, they've learned how it spreads so they can stop it."
But the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee says Schumer has scrambled the facts.
"The claim that the House Agriculture Appropriations bill somehow slashes funding for animal disease prevention and emergency response — the tools the Department of Agriculture uses to keep egg prices low — is patently false," House Appropriations spokeswoman Jennifer Hing told CQ Roll Call. "In fact, the Agriculture Appropriations bill actually increases funding over the president’s request, including an increase of $3 million for avian health to fight the spread of this disease, and it grants flexibility to the Department of Agriculture to use all resources to control and eradicate this devastating outbreak."
“House Republicans are cutting vital programs that keep the country’s food supply safe. The House approach underfunds research and the fight against Avian flu and other diseases by a whopping $500 million, period," Schumer spokesman Matt House said in response.
But Schumer, always one to identify a news peg, also connected the rising egg prices to Father's Day, saying it cost more money for children who made breakfast for their parents.
"It was $2.50 in May, it's $3.69 in June," Schumer said of the price for cartons of eggs, per WCBS radio . "In one of the dumbest moves Washington has made, at a time when bird flu is going through the roof, they’re dramatically slashing the one program we have to prevent it, the one program we have to stop its spread."
The egg price press conference points to a broader strategy emerging among Senate Democrats ahead of a potential Sept. 30 shutdown showdown with the GOP. Republicans have proposed maintaining tight sequestration-level spending caps for domestic programs first set in 2011, while freeing up tens of billions for the Pentagon by pumping up the overseas war-funding account for non-war costs.
Democrats are focusing, just as Schumer has for years in his travels around New York state, on headline-grabbing stories. For instance, Sens. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, and Mark Warner, D-Va., held a conference call on June 10 to call for more funding for cybersecurity infrastructure upgrades after the massive breach of Office of Personnel Management files.
Last month, Schumer and other Democrats from states along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor called for fully funding infrastructure improvements for the passenger rail service after the May 12 derailment just northeast of Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. And shortly before that, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, got no shortage of headlines in home-state newspapers calling for appropriators to avoid cuts to Justice Department programs that could fund body cameras for police, about a month after the shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., by a police officer was caught on camera.
Democratic aides signaled there will be more to come.
As for the strategy of the Senate's Republican majority, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has yet to say if he will call test votes on additional fiscal 2016 spending bills drafted at levels opposed by Democrats, but Sen. Roy Blunt, senior appropriator and member of leadership, said last week he hoped McConnell would take such a step.
"Let the minority stand in the way of debating the bills and funding the government," the Missouri Republican told reporters as Democrats blocked an attempt to break a filibuster of proceeding to the defense spending bill.
And Republicans from both the House and Senate have begun to hammer the Senate Democrats over blocking that defense spending bill as opposition to funding the troops on the battlefield.
Senate Democratic leaders say their goal is to force the issue of budget negotiations starting as early as this week. The caps, which if exceeded would trigger a new round of across-the-board sequester cuts, are non-starters for President Barack Obama, meaning a standoff is coming, sooner or later — regardless of omelette inflation.
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