WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2017 - The House is poised to give quick approval to a Senate-passed budget resolution that will clear the way for a tax-cut bill without requiring any reduction in farm bill spending. 

A version of the fiscal 2018 budget blueprint approved by the House earlier this month included instructions to reduce agriculture spending by $10 billion. The Senate version included no such requirement, and the measure was amended with a series of unrelated changes intended to allow the House to swiftly approve the new version next week. 

The Senate approved the resolution 51-49 Thursday night after making the House-sought changes that will accelerate consideration of a tax bill in the House. The budget would allow the tax cuts to reduce revenue by $1.5 trillion over 10 years without offsetting spending cuts. 

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told Fox News on Friday that he expected to release a timetable for the tax bill soon after the House takes up the Senate-passed budget next week. 

House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., advised the Senate on the changes that were made to the resolution. 

“The budget process is not easy, but I am pleased that the final version included some changes that reflect many ideas offered in our plan and also has the support of President Trump,” she said. “In the House, I look forward to swift passage and to working with the president on tax reform, to provide relief to all Americans.”

Omitting a cut in agriculture spending will allow the House and Senate agriculture committees to move forward with a new farm bill using the existing funding baseline. “Basically we have the opportunity to determine our own budget fate,” said Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. (Shown above.)

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Friday, “I commend House and Senate leadership for producing a final budget that preserves our ability to craft an effective, efficient Farm Bill while also allowing us to move forward with efforts to simplify the tax code.” 

The House and Senate committees already faced a stiff challenge figuring out how to pay for demands for increased spending within the existing funding limits. Groups are seeking increases in commodity, conservation and research spending, and there are also 37 expiring programs in the 2014 farm bill that have no funding beyond 2018. Most of those have important political constituencies that want the programs extended and even expanded. 

Even though the Senate budget requires no farm bill cut, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., drafted an amendment that would have put the Senate on record in opposition to any such reduction. The amendment ultimately didn’t get a vote. 

Roberts said the amendment was unnecessary since the resolution doesn’t require a cut in farm spending.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would have required a wide range of cuts, including $4.8 billion in agriculture spending, but the Senate emphatically rejected it, 94-4. 

Roberts and farm groups feared that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., would introduce an amendment seeking cuts in crop insurance. Shaheen, a co-sponsor of the AFFIRM Act that would create a means test for premium subsidies and eliminate the Harvest Price Option among other provisions, told Agri-Pulse she was still committed to seeking reforms in the program. 

The main goal of the resolution is to allow the Senate to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a tax bill with a simple majority. Bills normally cannot move through the Senate without a 60-vote majority to cut off a filibuster. Republicans control just 52 votes in the Senate, and few Democrats are expected to support the tax measure. 

Elements of the tax bill will be important to agriculture. The legislation is expected to allow farmers to continue to deduct interest expenses and Republicans also are determined to eliminate the estate tax. But Senate Republicans say they plan to offset some of the benefit of ending the estate tax by limiting the use of stepped-up basis on inherited assets. The GOP plan also would lower the top tax rate on pass-through businesses. 

"Tax reform will ... allow American companies to be more competitive and prevent jobs from going overseas. Farmers and ranchers will also benefit from reforms to expensing requirements and by elimination of the death tax," Roberts said.

(Updated at 3 p.m. with Conaway comment.)


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