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Conservatives Find Political Red Meat In USDA Diet Guidelines

By David Eldridge, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — From the IRS to the Environmental Protection Agency to the Federal Communications Commission, federal agencies are under more scrutiny from congressional Republicans concerned about regulatory overreach than at any time in Barack Obama’s presidency.

Add the Department of Agriculture to the list.

A group of 71 GOP House members has jumped into a growing controversy over proposed new dietary guidelines for Americans released earlier this year by a USDA advisory committee.

Republicans voiced concerns about the panel, known as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, in a March 31 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, calling the committee’s suggestions “conflicting.”

“We are disappointed with reports from observers that the approach of the 2015 DGAC suggests studies were either selected or excluded to support pre-determined conclusions,” the lawmakers wrote. “For example, the DGAC’s recommendation on lean red meat directly contradicts years of peer reviewed scientific research on the benefits of lean red meat as a high-quality source of protein in a healthy diet.”

Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-KA), one of the letter’s co-signers, took to Twitter Wednesday to call the guidelines an attack on his meat-producing state. “Where’s the beef? An attack on #redmeat is an attack on the meat state of Kansas,” he tweeted

In its report, the DGAC calls for emphasizing an American diet less dependent on meat — in part because of meat production’s impact on the environment.

Environmental groups have cheered the proposal, which has not been officially adopted by the USDA. But cattle producers and lawmakers from agribusiness states are pushing back, criticizing the guidelines as the latest attempt by the administration to use federal agencies to push the president’s political agenda.

Other Republicans signing on to the letter include Missouri’s Vicky Hartzler, Indiana’s Jackie Walorski and Texas’ K. Michael Conaway.

The House letter follows a similar letter signed by 30 senators, mostly Republicans, sent earlier in March.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr

Boehner, House Delegation To Meet Netanyahu In Israel

By David Eldridge, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner will lead a House delegation to Israel later this month to meet with newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith confirmed Friday morning that Boehner, who invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress on March 3, would make the trip: “The Speaker will visit Israel during the next district work period. He looks forward to visiting the country, discussing our shared priorities for peace and security in the region, and further strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel.”

Israeli news sites reported Boehner will arrive March 31 with a group of Republican lawmakers. Sources on Capitol Hill told CQ Roll Call the visit was planned not only before the Israeli election, but long before the prime minister’s speech to Congress.

Boehner has been to Israel a number of times, most recently in 2008.

Photo: Speaker John Boehner and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel greet one another before the prime minister addresses a joint meeting of Congress. (Speaker John Boehner/Flickr)

Democrats Blame Budget Battles For Fumbled Ebola Response

By David Eldridge, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

Democrats at Thursday’s rare mid-recess Ebola hearing pushed back at criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis, arguing that missteps in the federal response are due in part to budget standoffs and last year’s government shutdown.

Colorado’s Diana DeGette, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holding the hearing, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has come under fire since the arrival of the virus in the U.S., cannot do its job adequately without proper funding from Congress.

She reiterated a key element of the Obama administration’s approach to addressing the Ebola outbreak: that efforts to contain the disease must be focused on Africa.

“There is no such thing as fortress America when it comes to disease,” she said.

California’s Henry A. Waxman, in his opening statement, echoed his Democratic colleague’s remarks, telling the panel that congressional budget fights that led to sequesters and last year’s government shutdown contributed to the problems with the U.S. response.

“We have our share of responsibility by not funding the infrastructure,” Waxman said.

“Since 2006, CDC’s budget, adjusted for inflation, has dropped by 12 percent. Funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement, which supports state and local health departments preparedness activities, has been cut from $1 billion in its first year of funding in 2002 to $612 million in 2014. All of these were also subject to the sequestration. And those who allowed that sequestration to happen by closing the government have to answer to the American people, as well,” said the California Democrat, who is retiring at the end of this term.

Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy, chairman of the subcommittee, in his opening remarks said if additional resources are needed, federal officials need to speak up.

“The trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day with demonstrated failures of the current strategy,” he said.

“If resources or authorization is needed to stop Ebola in its tracks, tell us in Congress. I pledge — and I believe this committee joins me in pledging — that we will do everything in our power to work with you to keep the American people safe from Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” he said.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson