House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway looks to quell a Democratic revolt over his draft farm bill, just a week before his panel’s planned votes on it, while ethanol producers step up their efforts to head off a cap sought by refiners on the prices of biofuel credits.
Also this week, Republican leaders hope to move an omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Critical for agriculture, the bill is expected to include an agreement between farmer cooperatives and other agribusiness companies to overhaul the co-ops' newly enacted tax benefit.
Details of the changes to the Section 199A tax deduction have not been announced, but sources say that co-ops will be treated similarly to the way they were under the old Section 199 provision that was repealed by the new tax law. Still, the benefits for selling to co-ops will be scaled back. In some cases, it may be more beneficial to sell to a co-op and in other cases it won’t, said one source familiar with the agreement.
The omnibus bill must pass by March 23, when the latest stopgap spending bill expires.
Conaway, R-Texas, hopes to release his draft farm bill this week, but he ran into a roadblock last week when Democratic members of the panel were briefed on provisions of the nutrition title that are intended to push more able-bodied food stamp recipients into jobs. The committee’s top Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said the committee minority won’t support the bill in its current form.
In a statement to Agri-Pulse late Friday, Conaway suggested that Democrats were looking to use the bill to gain an edge in the mid-term elections. He said “some in the Democratic leadership may not want to allow Congress to get its work done in order to score points in the fall and they will look for any excuse."
The top Democrat on the committee’s nutrition subcommittee, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, recently called for blocking the bill if the nutrition title is unacceptable. That would allow Democrats to reshape the legislation if they win control of the House in November, he said.
Even if Republicans narrowly retain control of the House, having a larger minority would increase Democratic leverage in drafting a new bill next year.
A spokeswoman for committee Democrats, Liz Friedlander, indicated that there were ongoing negotiations. “We’re still talking … so stay tuned,” she said.
The bill would expand the number of able-bodied participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who would be subject to work requirements. Under current law, able-bodied recipients between the ages of 18 and 50 with no dependents (ABAWDs) must work at least 80 hours a month. The bill would raise the age cutoff to 65, according to Peterson, and also require parents of children over 12 years of age to work. A source familiar with the bill said the top age was still under discussion.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has started pitching the farm bill as a major piece of the GOP initiative to turn welfare programs into workfare. “I’m really anxious to begin that conversation with the American people about what that policy should be,” Conaway told reporters last week.
Meanwhile, the ethanol industry has been holding news conferences and rallies in an effort to stop President Trump from agreeing to a cap on prices for Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, which are used to track compliance with the annual usage mandates set by the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The White House scheduled, but then canceled, a meeting Monday morning between biofuel and oil industry stakeholders. A source told Agri-Pulse that the issue was not ready to elevate to the White House, even though USDA and EPA have had “productive” discussions since industry representatives met with Trump March 1. Trump floated the idea of a two-year cap on RINs to go along with a waiver of the Reid vapor pressure standard that prevents the sale of E15 in summer months.
Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition of Ethanol, told reporters Friday that a cap on RINs at any level would be challenged in court. “We feel incredibly confident that a RIN cap, no matter what it is priced at, would violate the statute,” he said.
Also this week, Senate Republicans will put the focus on Trump’s infrastructure plan when the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, holds a hearing on Wednesday with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and four other cabinet secretaries.
The other cabinet members who will appear: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
(Corrects ABAWD work requirement.)
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, March 12
9:30 a.m. - Bipartisan Policy Center forum, “Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging SNAP for Better Health,” 1225 Eye St. NW.
Tuesday, March 13
10 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform hearing, “Shining Light on the Federal Regulatory Process,” 2154 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing on next-generation broadband, 253 Russell.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, 36Ann6 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Washington International Trade Association forum, “The Great Wall: Trade Enforcement in the Age of Trump,” Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on state and local transportation needs, 253 Russell.
Wednesday, March 14
Anne Hazlett, adviser to the agriculture secretary on Rural Development, hosts roundtable on opioid abuse in Middletown, Pa.
All day - ACORE Renewable Energy Policy Forum, Washington Marriott at Metro Center.
10 a.m. - House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, 2362-B Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on infrastructure with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, 106 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Agriculture Creates Real Employment (ACRE) Act, 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, March 15
9 a.m. - WITA forum, “Brexit: Status and Outlook One Year after Article 50,” Ronald Reagan Building.
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the Interior Department, 1324 Longworth.
1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with USDA’s Inspector General, 2362-A Rayburn.
Friday, March 16
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com