The farm bill negotiators face a self-imposed deadline this week for reaching a deal that Congress could act on by the end of the month when the 2014 farm bill expires.
Meanwhile, negotiations also are underway to finish work on a series of fiscal 2019 spending packages that are needed to fund USDA, FDA, EPA, the Interior Department and other departments and agencies important to agriculture. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The four lead farm bill negotiators - the chairmen and ranking members for the Senate and House Agriculture committees - met face to face twice last week and are scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday after Congress returns from its break for Rosh Hashanah.
The negotiators said they made progress last week but remained unable to nail down deals on a range of issues, from the major commodity programs to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“We keep talking and circling and touching gloves. Eventually we’ll have to say, ‘Alright, we’ve got to get this done,’” said House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
Sept. 30 is not a hard deadline for enacting a new bill: Crop insurance is permanently authorized, and the commodity programs for grains, oilseeds and cotton will remain in effect for the 2018-19 marketing year. But the negotiators have made Sept. 30 their target for completing the talks. To do that, they set a goal of concluding the negotiations this week, which would allow time for finalizing cost estimates and making any needed adjustments.
The House is scheduled to be out the week of Sept. 17, leaving just seven legislative days before October.
Lawmakers and their aides were keeping tight hold on details of the talks, although the negotiators acknowledged there was talk of settling the divisions over food stamp work requirements by modifying the rules for state and regional waivers.
One farm bill veteran, Dale Moore, vice president of public affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, expressed optimism that the talks were moving toward a deal soon. Moore, a former congressional aide and chief of staff to USDA during the George W. Bush administration, said the negotiations were proceeding at a much quicker pace than they had for recent farm bills.
“What we’re hearing leak out is that the four principals are still very much engaged with each other,” said Moore.
The negotiations over FY19 spending bills are moving forward, and President Donald Trump backed away last week from his threat to shut down the government Sept. 30.
“There are a lot of politicians that I like and respect and are with me all the way that would rather not do it (a shutdown) because they have races,” Trump said on Friday.
Conferees were named last week for a package of bills that include funding measures for USDA, FDA, Interior, EPA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The House versions of the bills include a number of GOP-backed policy riders important to agriculture, including one that would block he Obama-era “waters of the United States” rule from being enforced while the EPA finishes work on a replacement.
However, the Senate passed its version of those bills without controversial provisions, and that will make it more difficult for GOP negotiators to argue for including policy riders that they support, said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican negotiator for the Interior-EPA measure.
“It’s going to be very tough” to keep GOP policy riders in the final legislation, Cole said.
Also this week, the Senate will vote on the Opioid Crisis Response Act, a bipartisan package of more than 70 proposals developed by five different committees. Included in the bill are provisions to strengthen FDA’s regulatory authority and expand treatment and prevention programs.
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Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sept. 10
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture annual meeting, Hartford, Conn. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue delivers keynote address Monday morning.
Noon - Heritage Foundation forum on the Endangered Species Act with Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, livestream available.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Sept. 11
Wednesday, Sept. 12
National Farmers Union annual fly-in, through Friday.
Organic Trade Association membership meeting at Expo East conference, through Saturday, Baltimore.
8 a.m. - Perdue and other USDA officials brief NFU members, USDA.
1 p.m. - Senators and House members brief NFU members on the farm bill, 106 Dirksen.
Thursday, Sept. 13
10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on trade, 385A Russell.
Friday, Sept. 14
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