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Farm Bill: Congressional Inaction on Disaster Bill; 2018 Agenda Items

At the end of 2017, Congress passed a temporary spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, but failed to complete work on an $81-billion disaster aid package. In addition to assistance for hurricanes and wildfires, the disaster package also included provisions dealing with the cotton and dairy programs.  Today’s update provides a brief recap of some of the pre-holiday legislative activity, and highlights news articles discussing the legislative agenda in the new year.

Farm Bill- End of Year Activity Fails to Address Cotton, Dairy Issues

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Wednesday, December 20th that, “House Republican leaders on Tuesday released a hurricane and wildfire disaster package that would also attempt to deal with problems in the cotton and dairy programs and cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but the bill’s future was uncertain.”

The DTN article explained that, “The provisions on pages 149 to 159 of the bill would declare ‘seed cotton’ eligible for farm subsidies.”

115TH CONGRESS 1ST SESSION- H. R. 4667: Making further supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, for disaster assistance for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and calendar year 2017 wildfires, and for other purposes.

“The bill also would repeal the existing cap on dairy and all livestock insurance policies in the Federal Crop Insurance Act, and set up an interstate database, or system of databases, of SNAP information to be known as the National Accuracy Clearinghouse,” the DTN article said.

However, Los Angeles Times writer Lisa Mascaro reported on December 21st that, “Congress approved a temporary spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, but failed to complete work on an $81-billion disaster aid package to help California, Gulf Coast states and Puerto Rico recover from wildfires and hurricanes, as lawmakers scrambled Thursday to wrap up business before a Christmas break.

“The stopgap measure continues federal operations for a few more weeks, setting up another deadline for Jan. 19.”

The LA Times article explained that, “The House approved the spending bill, 231 to 188, with 14 Democrats joining a majority of the chamber’s Republicans. The Senate quickly followed, voting 66 to 32 to avert a federal shutdown Friday, with 30 Democrats opposed, including both California senators, largely because the bill failed to resolve the fate of the young immigrants known as Dreamers. ​​​

The disaster aid package, the largest in U.S. history, ran into trouble. It passed the House, 251 to 169, on a bipartisan vote, but was blocked in the Senate, where it required 60 votes, under pressure from two directions.”

Ms. Mascaro noted that, “Conservative groups opposed the disaster measure for increasing spending too much, and Democrats said it was insufficient, especially for hard-hit Puerto Rico. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky decided not to bring the measure up for a vote.

Lawmakers plan to try again in the new year.

On Friday, December 22nd, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported that with respect to the spending bill that was approved (Continuing Resolution, or CR), “The CR includes a provision exempting the tax bill passed earlier this week for statutory Pay-As-You-Go rules that would have required cuts to farm program spending in 2018.”

Mr. Hagstrom also pointed out that, “The disaster bill, however, has funding language in it for cotton and dairy producers that, once passed, will also build a baseline for those provisions in the upcoming farm bill debate.”

The DTN article added that, “But the Senate decided to wait until January to deal with disaster aid.”

A Wall Street Journal article by Kristina Peterson on Friday, December 22nd indicated that, “‘January’s going to be a bear,’ said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.). ‘This is a process that doesn’t ever seem to get easy.'”

The Journal article indicated that, “Congress is likely to return next year with just a few weeks to reach a two-year budget deal, a reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and how to handle the so-called Dreamers, young people living in the U.S. illegally who were brought here as children.”

Farm Bill Timing, Other Agenda Items

Recall that in an interview in November, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway explained that with respect to the timing of the Farm Bill,  “I’m hopeful that the muscle memory of having passed a big deal [tax reform] that’s big for America, that we’ll move right to the farm bill and get it passed across the House floor, which I believe will be another big deal for America, to get it done on time.”

And in early December, Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) the Ranking Member on the House Ag Committee noted that, “I had a meeting with the Chairman (Conaway). We agreed that we’re going to start marking this up in committee at the end of January or the first part of February. We need to move this sooner-rather-than-later.”

Also, the December 13th edition of Morning Agriculture reported that, “House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway is ready to move full steam ahead on the farm bill in the new year — and he’s not sweating the idea that a welfare overhaul push could make things complicated.

“In an exclusive interview with POLITICO Pro, the Texas Republican was upbeat about keeping the sweeping legislation on track and has plans to secure time for a floor vote by March. The committee has already sent a working draft of the bill to the Congressional Budget Office. Conaway envisions having the whole process wrapped up before a push for welfare overhaul gains momentum on Capitol Hill.”

However, Washington Post writers John Wagner, Ed O’Keefe, and Paul Kane reported on December 21st that, “A day after standing shoulder to shoulder at the White House to celebrate passage of a major tax bill, tensions emerged among Republicans on Thursday over what part of their agenda to tackle next as the party tries to capi­tal­ize on the biggest legislative success of the Trump presidency.

“For weeks, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and other conservatives have been trying to build momentum for reining in spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other safety-net programs, long-standing goals that catapulted Ryan to prominence in the GOP.

“But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threw cold water on those ambitions Thursday, saying he would rather focus on an issue with potential for bipartisan appeal: an infrastructure initiative that spurs new spending on the nation’s ailing roads, bridges, airports and waterways.”

Nicole Heslip reported at Brownfield before Christmas that, “Jonathan Coppess with the University of Illinois tells Brownfield the House Ag Committee is right to push for farm bill discussions after the first of the year, but first Congress needs a budget.  ‘Early January I don’t think is unrealistic for the committee, I think it gets a lot cloudier outside of the committee realm.'”

The Brownfield article added that, “Coppess says farm bill work could also be delayed if Congress picks up the welfare reform discussion after the first of the year and 2018 is a mid-term election year which will even further complicate progress.  ‘One of the reasons that I presume that Chairman Conaway and even Roberts have made indications that they want to move as quickly as they can into 2018 is that that calendar gets really unfavorable the closer you get to the election date.'”

A short snippet in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution indicated that, “Led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, some Republicans want to pursue changes to welfare in 2018. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of overseeing food stamps [SNAP], [Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue] has already signaled he’s open to major changes.”

Also, Tom Kacich noted on Sunday at The News-Gazette (Champaign, Il) Online that, “And Congress may do some of the things it couldn’t get done in 2017 next year, said [House Ag Committee Member] Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.

“‘I happen to believe that the Congress ought to be able to address multiple issues at once, and I don’t subscribe to the theory that everything stops and shuts down in the legislative process because we have an election coming up,’ Davis said last week.”

Sunday’s article added that, “In Congress, said Davis, he’s hoping for action on infrastructure, health care, a new farm bill, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“‘It’s a certainty that we will be debating an infrastructure package, I believe. What is not certain is that the Democrats will want to give the Trump administration a bipartisan win on this in an election year,’ he said.”

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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