Farm-state lawmakers are bracing this week for renewed proposals to cut agriculture spending as President Trump releases his fiscal 2019 budget, and Congress begins an extended debate on immigration policy that could potentially extend to the H-2A farmworker visa program.
Trump will unveil his administration's long-awaited infrastructure plan on Monday, along with the FY19 budget.
The budget itself is likely to have little impact beyond Monday's release, coming as it does on the heels of the two-year agreement enacted Friday to raise federal spending by $300 billion above the limits set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday that Congress didn't need to spend all the money that the budget deal allows.
"These are spending caps. They're not spending floors. ... So, we are going to show how you can run the government without spending all of that," Mulvaney said.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, warned members of the National Cotton Council at its annual meeting this weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, to expect the White House budget to again target farm bill spending. The FY18 budget proposal included $29 billion in cuts to crop insurance as well as deep reductions in export promotion, international food aid and rural development among other programs.
“My guess is Mick Mulvaney will not listen … one more time. and we’ll have to argue why those cuts to farm programs won’t make any sense,” Conaway said.
Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, complained to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a hearing last week that Mulvaney doesn’t understand “the national security implications of the ag safety net.”
Perdue conceded to reporters after the hearing that the budget proposals would run into opposition on Capitol Hill. “We’re going to be supporting the administration budget, but Congress will have some ideas of their own,” he said.
Ted McKinney, USDA's undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, warned the National Cotton Council on Sunday that the budget could propose cuts again in the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, which help promote cotton and other U.S. commodities overseas. McKinney made clear he supports the spending and that Congress does, too.
“I know how to salute when I'm ordered to salute, but until I’m told to salute I’m going to tell people the value of MAP and FMD funds," McKinney said.
The White House infrastructure plan being announced Monday will call for spending $200 billion in federal funds, $50 billion of which would be earmarked for rural needs. The rural money would be distributed through block grants to governors. “The rural funds are advanced and move faster," an administration official said.
The Senate this week will begin what could be an extended congressional debate on immigration policy in advance of the March 5 deadline for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided legal status to immigrants who were brought into country illegally as children. Democrats want to limit the debate as much as possible to the DACA issue, but Trump and many Republicans will be pushing for restrictions on legal immigration as well.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who has long advocated for reforms to the H-2A farmworker visa program, said she doesn't expect that issue to come up in the Senate debate. But Conaway said he thinks the House’s DACA debate will offer a golden opportunity to replace H-2A with a program that would be easier for farmers to use.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has proposed a broad immigration bill that would create a new H-2C farmworker visa program and require all employers, including farmers, to begin checking the legal status of workers with the E-verify system. The H-2C visas would be available for year-round as well as seasonal workers. H-2A is limited to seasonal employment, making it of little use to dairy producers and other livestock sectors.
If the farmworker issue isn’t addressed in the upcoming DACA debate, “I don’t know that the body (the House) will be willing to take it up again anytime soon, and we need this stuff fixed,” Conaway said.
Also this week, there will be hearings in the House on international food aid and the benefits of technology in agriculture.
Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who served in the Clinton administration, and Andrew Natsios, who ran the U.S. Agency for International Development during the George W. Bush administration, will testify Wednesday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on food aid.
On Thursday, a House Small Business subcommittee will hold a hearing, titled “Restoring Rural America: How Agritech is Revitalizing the Heartland.” The witnesses will include Kevin Kimle, who directs the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative at Iowa State University, and Sam Fiorello, chief operating officer of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.
Throughout the week, you might see the 2018 National FFA Officer Team on their first official trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. The team will be meeting with a number of leading industry organizations including CropLife America, CoBank, Glover Park Group, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, and the Farm Credit Council. They will also be meeting with senior officials at the U.S. Department of Education, USDA, the College Board, Family Career and Community Leaders of America, as well as Ray Starling, special assistant to the president for Agriculture and Agriculture Trade at the White House, a former National FFA Officer. Friday will be spent on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Congress and their staffs with two special presentations of the Honorary American Farmer Degree to Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway and Ranking Member Collin Peterson.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Feb. 12
11:30 a.m. - White House releases fiscal 2019 budget and infrastructure plan.
Tuesday, Feb. 13
National Ethanol Conference, through Wednesday, San Antonio, Texas.
9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum, “The economics of the next farm bill,” National Press Club.
10 a.m. - Senate Budget Committee hearing on the president’s FY19 budget with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, 608 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on reauthorization of animal-drug user fees, 430 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Feb. 14
10 a.m. - House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on international food aid, 2172 Rayburn.
Thursday, Feb. 15
9:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Commodity Futures Trading Commission, including pending rules and cross-border agreements, 328A Russell.
10 a.m. - House Small Business hearing, “Restoring Rural America: How Agritech is Revitalizing the Heartland,” 2360 Rayburn.
Friday, Feb. 16
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