The 2014 farm bill is set to expire next Sunday, leaving numerous programs in limbo while congressional negotiators continue struggling to reach agreement on a range of issues.
The four lead farm bill negotiators - the chairmen and senior Democrats of the House and Senate Agriculture committees - talked by phone last week, and their aides talked through the week.
A GOP member of the House-Senate conference committee, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, said last week that she was less optimistic that negotiators could agree on a new bill this year. “We could be looking at a one-year extension,” she said.
But the House Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said Friday that he was encouraged by progress that he said was made during the week. “We’re really at a point here where I can see we can get this thing done,” Peterson said in an interview with the Adams on Agriculture radio show. “There are still some compromises that need to be made, but I’m optimistic."
Still, committee aides said that the lead Senate Democratic negotiator, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, still hadn’t reached agreement with the House on key issues, including the House GOP demands to tighten work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients.
There is virtually no chance that Congress will extend the 2014 farm law before it expires on Sunday - but there will be no direct impact of the law’s expiration on farmers or SNAP recipients.
The federal crop insurance program is permanently authorized, and commodity programs continue in effect for the 2018-19 marketing year, while the dairy producers’ Margin Protection Program expires Dec. 31. SNAP will be automatically reauthorized by a continuing resolution that Congress is expected to send President Trump this week to avoid a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year starts.
“For farmers the real crunch time on having a new bill is December, maybe November,” said Peterson, referring to the period when farmers are making their 2019 planting decisions.
The more immediate impact may be on some of the more than three dozen small farm bill programs that run out of funding on Sunday, including a pair of small trade programs important to commodity groups. One is the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, which subsidizes the cost of maintaining commodity groups’ overseas offices. Some groups say they may be forced to close the offices if the program is shut down for an extended period.
Also running out of money is the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program, which helps fruit, vegetable and nut producers pay for projects aimed at overcoming barriers to their products in foreign markets, including sanitary-phytosanitary restrictions.
Next Sunday also is a critical day for the Trump administration’s effort to reach a deal with Canada on revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement in order to get the pact approved by Congress. Canada has so far refused to agree to U.S. demands that Canada end its Class 7 dairy pricing program, which remains a stumbling block.
The House will take up this week the continuing resolution that would keep the government operating until Dec. 7 while Congress finishes work on fiscal 2019 appropriations bills. The Senate-passed CR is packaged with FY19 spending measures for the Defense Department and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.
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On Friday, Trump signed into a law the first tranche of FY19 spending bills, which include funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. The measure was stripped of House policy riders opposed by Democrats, including one that would have killed the Obama-era “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule expanding the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
Meanwhile, several other policy issues have slowed negotiations on a third package of FY19 spending bills that includes the funding measure for USDA and FDA. The unresolved issues included a ban on horse slaughter and a provision ensuring USDA oversight of cell-derived, cultured meat.
If the negotiators can’t reach a final agreement in time to send the package to Trump by next Sunday, spending for the affected departments will likely be extended at current levels to Dec. 7.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sept. 24
United Fresh Produce Association annual Washington conference, through Wednesday, JW Marriott.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Sep. 25
9 a.m. - USDA releases the monthly Food Price Outlook.
3:30 p.m. - Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension subcommittee hearing, “Health Care in Rural America: Examining Experiences and Costs,” 430 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Sept. 26
10 a.m. - Heritage Foundation forum, “The WTO and the China Challenge,” 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
10 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fraud, 2154 Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing on bills to amend the Endangered Species Act, 1324 Longworth.
Thursday, Sept. 27
11:30 a.m. - AGree Discussion Series, “Harnessing (Big) Data for Small Farmers,” 1800 M St. NW.
Friday, Sept. 28
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