Farm bill negotiators are in danger of missing their deadline for agreeing on a new measure before the 2014 farm law expires Sept. 30 after failing to reach a deal last week.
Meanwhile, House and Senate appropriators are struggling to wrap up negotiations on some key policy disputes in order to get a package of appropriations bills important to agriculture on President Donald Trump’s desk by Oct. 1, the start of the 2019 fiscal year.
Complicating lawmakers’ plans: The House is not in session this week, and the Senate will be out on Wednesday for Yom Kippur.
The lead farm bill negotiators had set a goal of wrapping up an agreement by the end of last week in order to have time to get the legislative text ready for a pre-Sept. 30 vote. Instead, the negotiators remain at odds on a range of issues, including commodity, conservation, nutrition and energy programs.
The unresolved disputes include revisions to the Price Loss Coverage program, sources said. The House bill would eliminate payments on base acres that haven’t been planted since 2009, which would help offset the cost of allowing farmers, primarily on the southern Plains, who experienced severe drought over an extended period to adjust their yields.
The Senate bill put its focus on making improvements to the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, although most producers are expected to switch to PLC.
“We’ve heard the call from producers to improve the programs,” Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in an Agri-Pulse Open Mic interview. “We’re working together to incorporate as many of those proposed changes as we can.”
The negotiators also have yet to agree on how to meet the demands from House Republicans and President Trump to strengthen work requirements for adults who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The focus of the talks has been on making it harder for states to get waivers from the work rules. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a recent interview with Agri-Pulse that he would recommend Trump sign a bill that does that.
Trump, meanwhile, tried to pressure Stabenow on the issue by posting a tweet that accuses her of stalling the farm bill over the food stamp issue. Stabenow and fellow Democrats “are fighting tooth and nail to not allow our Great Farmers to get what they so richly deserve,” the president tweeted. Stabenow responded on Twitter by saying she’s not “letting politics distract me from working across the aisle to finalize a good bill.”
Meanwhile, several policy issues were still hanging at the end of last week as House and Senate appropriators struggled to finish a package of four spending bills that includes the funding measure for USDA and FDA.
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If the negotiators can’t reach a final agreement in time to send the package to Trump by Sept. 30, spending for the affected departments will likely be extended at current levels to Dec. 7.
The appropriators finished work last week on a separate package of bills for the departments of Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services that includes a continuing resolution to extend spending for other unfunded departments and agencies.
The unresolved policy issues for the USDA-FDA spending measure include details of a provision that would ensure that USDA has a role in regulating cell-derived, cultured meat.
The White House wants lawmakers to leave it to the administration work out the jurisdictional issue between USDA and FDA, according to a source knowledgeable about the negotiations. But the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees say that USDA should be given a role in regulating the products. The bill will provide some clarity about USDA’s role, said Rep. Robert Aderholt, who chairs the House panel.
Also unresolved was a provision in the Senate-passed spending bill that would extend the current ban on inspection of horse slaughter.
Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, wants to include a provision in the final spending package that would block Perdue’s plan to relocate USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture out of the nation’s capital.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sept. 17
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Sep. 18
9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum, “The ROI for Higher Education in Food and Agriculture,” National Press Club.
Wednesday, Sept. 19
Thursday, Sept. 20
Friday, Sept. 21
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