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Farm Bill: Budget Impasse Could Impact Congressional To-Do List

Budget Issues- Government Shutdown

Los Angeles Times writer Lisa Mascaro reported late last week that, “The federal government began shutting down early Saturday after a flurry of dramatic, last-minute negotiations failed to end the congressional deadlock over a spending bill before a midnight deadline.”

“Earlier in the night, Senate Democrats — joined by some Republican deficit hawks and immigration allies — filibustered a stopgap funding bill approved by the House on Thursday. That sent all sides searching for an alternative deal,” the article said.

A front page article in Saturday’s Washington Post stated that, “The federal government shut down for the first time in more than four years Friday after senators rejected a temporary spending patch and bipartisan efforts to find an alternative fell short as a midnight deadline came and went.”

Robert Costa, Paul Kane, Ed O’Keefe and Karoun Demirjian reported on the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post that, “Congressional leaders in both parties refused to budge publicly from their political corners Saturday on the first day of the government shutdown…[B]ut private glimmers of a breakthrough were evident by late Saturday, as moderate Democrats and Republicans began to rally behind a new short-term funding proposal to reopen the government through early February.

That plan could include funding for storm-ravaged states, reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program — and an implicit agreement to hold votes at some point in the coming weeks on a bipartisan immigration deal, according to senators involved in the discussions.

The article noted that, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed on the Senate floor late Saturday to take up a new spending plan by Monday morning, or sooner, that would keep government open through Feb. 8 but would not contain a solution for ‘dreamers,’ undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children.”

The Post article added that, “Democrats, however, remained intensely opposed to McConnell’s approach…”

New York Times writers Nicholas Fandos and Thomas Kaplan reported on Sunday that, “The government shutdown will enter its third day. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, delayed a procedural vote on a stopgap spending bill until noon on Monday, as a bipartisan group of senators appeared to be inching toward a compromise.”

The Times writers stated that, “The best hope for a breakthrough appeared to reside with a group of about 20 senators from both parties who met throughout the weekend to try to hammer out a compromise to present to Mr. McConnell and the Democratic leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

The group was discussing a plan in which the government would stay open through early February, to be coupled with a promise that the Senate would tackle the issue of immigration in the coming weeks. Several members signaled optimism on Sunday afternoon, but it remained to be seen if they could nudge Mr. Schumer and Mr. McConnell to reach an agreement, particularly over what such a promise might look like.”

Farm Bill- Timing

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “Disaster aid, the farm bill and other possible agenda items are stalled until the latest budget standoff is resolved. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, spoke on the U.S. Senate floor on Thursday, pointing out that the budget fights end up delaying every other plan for Congress.

“‘May and June will be occupied by the things we should have resolved now,’ Moran said. ‘And in May and June, we will be taking care of the things we could have been doing today.'”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “As Congress fights over temporary funding measures, the farm bill gets further hung up because of the fate of an $[81] billion disaster package for the hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters last year. The disaster bill contains about $2.6 billion in agricultural disaster aid. That includes specific provisions to help cotton and dairy farmers. The bill would allow cotton farmers to sign up for Price Loss Coverage for their cottonseed and change the formula for the dairy Margin Protection Program. The disaster bill was passed by the House in December, but still needs some Senate action.”

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from August noted that, “Most of the commodity-specific costs for the farm safety net under the 2014 farm bill may be attributed to a few major crops. Corn (46%), wheat (16%), soybeans (15%), cotton (8%), rice (5%), and peanuts (4%) cumulatively account for 94% of CCC and FCIC payments from 2014 through 2016.” (“Farm Safety-Net Payments Under the 2014 Farm Bill: Comparison by Program Crop,” CRS (August 11, 2017)).

Friday’s DTN article added that, “Jonathan Coppess, a former USDA Farm Service Agency administrator under the Obama Administration, said there are a lot of questions about whether Congress can complete a complex piece of legislation such as farm bill this calendar year. Another continuing resolution until mid-February backs up the calendar for lawmakers.

‘You have got the asks for the farm bill and you have got the baseline juggling act, but so much of that hinges on cotton and dairy,’ Coppess said. ‘I think everyone is waiting to see what happens with the disaster bill.’

An update on Friday at AgWeb (Farm Journal) Online stated that, “While talk on Capitol Hill has centered on avoiding a government shutdown and immigration, the first steps to a 2018 farm bill are being taken amidst funding and disaster package discussions. But experts warn if farm bill talks drag into the second half of the year, the window for passing a bill will quickly evaporate in this contentious election year.

“‘The pressure’s on,’ says former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Sen. Mike Johanns. ‘I’m sure that Chairman Pat Roberts [and ranking member Debbie Stabenow] on the Senate side [are] feeling that and of course they’re feeling it on the House side.’

“The next six months are critical for the farm bill to be completed this year, Johanns says, adding if this debate gets pushed close to the November elections it will become too difficult to complete.”

The AgWeb update pointed out that, “Policy analysts anticipate Congress will vote on the Disaster Relief bill by the end of January. That will be the official start to traction on the 2018 farm bill.”

Meanwhile, Jay Leeson discussed the disaster aid measure and its cotton components in an article that was posted at Breitbart Online on Thursday.

That article indicated that, “The committee passed a provision out of the lower chamber to make cotton growers once again eligible for the Farm Bill’s Title 1 price support program. That provision— which was scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as budget neutral—was part of the $81 billion disaster aid package on December 21.”

The article also noted that, “[Rep. Jodey Arrington (R., Tex.)], an agriculture committee member described by insiders as ‘Conaway’s cotton wingman,’ helped whip votes on the cotton provision. In an interview with Breitbart Texas, Arrington expressed both excitement and concern about the proposal going forward.

To get a safety net outside of the Farm Bill is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ But his worry: ‘If the disaster bill drags into February, it gets consumed in the political tornado of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and a government shutdown. Then the window of budget-neutral status for cotton could close.’

“‘The window closing‘ has increasingly become the primary concern for cotton country representatives on Capitol Hill. The CBO typically issues a new baseline each year in late January. If a new baseline drops in the days ahead and cotton’s safety net scores anything above $0, the House proposal could be in serious jeopardy. Not only would cotton be caught in a political tornado, it would be exposed to powerful senators like Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D- Vermont), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), all of whom have records of opposition to cotton, along with other Southern commodities. Conaway, who blistered Stabenow last May for ‘sabotaging’ cotton, included language in the House bill to alter dairy safety nets, if need be, in order to mitigate any reprisals from the Michigan’s senior senator.

“Concern was echoed in a statement to Breitbart Texas from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s Communication Advisor Catherine Frazier: ‘Senator Cruz understands the economic difficulties that cotton farmers in Texas are facing … It is critically important that the Senate take up a disaster relief bill as soon as possible, ensure it is not entangled in other policy issues and pass it with bipartisan support.'”

Also this week, Sabrina Rodriguez reported on Thursday in Politico’s Morning Agriculture that, “The House Agriculture Committee is waiting for an official 10-year estimate of its new draft of the farm bill, but remains on track to unveil the legislation by March, according to Chairman Mike Conaway.”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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