Farm bill negotiators plan to roll out the eagerly anticipated details of their agreement early this week with an eye toward getting the legislation to President Donald Trump's desk ahead of a showdown over his demands for funding the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The text of the legislation is expected to be released and filed on Tuesday, which would potentially allow votes yet this week in both the House and Senate.
However, business in Washington may be slowed this week as the nation honors the late President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday night at the age of 94. Bush’s body will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda starting Monday evening, and the federal government will shut down on Wednesday.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Friday that the negotiators were still working on some final language on the bill as well as waiting for cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office to ensure that the agreement would not increase federal spending.
“We’re not done on the language, and until you get the final package of language done, you get the full score. … We have to make sure we’re deficit neutral,” Conaway said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Kentucky Farm Bureau's annual meeting Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hoped to have a final Senate vote on the legislation this week or next. The bill won't include the tighter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that Trump wanted, but McConnell said he expected Trump to sign the bill.
Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican who is on the House-Senate conference committee that must sign the final legislation before it goes to the House floor, said he expected the legislation to pass the House narrowly and to garner about 75 Senate votes.
"We lost a lot of Republicans with this compromise bill but supposedly we have enough Democrats to cover it," Comer said. Many conservatives in the House supported that chamber's version because it included the tighter SNAP work rules.
Farm groups and others with an interest in the new farm bill will be glad to know for sure what is in the House-Senate agreement. Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees who directed the negotiations have tightly guarded the legislative text, leaving commodity and conservation groups in the dark about key details of how programs are being adjusted under the web of compromises the lead negotiators made in talks that stretched back to this summer.
It would mark the first time since 1990 that a farm bill has been enacted the same year that it was introduced, an accomplishment that reflects the fact that the legislation will make no major structural changes in the existing law, passed in 2014.
Congressional leaders have wanted to get the bill passed before dealing with a coming crunch over government spending. President Donald Trump is threatening to force a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t provide $5 billion for a border wall.
Many departments and agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Interior as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug administration, are scheduled to run out of money on Friday when a continuing resolution that has been funding them since Oct. 1 expires. That deadline can easily be extended, but Congress needs to reach some resolution with Trump.
By passing the farm bill this week, “we don’t get caught up in the shutdown” threat, Conaway said.
Sources say the bill would leave the major commodity and conservation programs intact, while providing an opportunity for some farmers to revise their yield averages and loosening commodity program eligibility rules to allow some extended family members to qualify for payments. The bill would expand the Conservation Reserve Program to 27 million acres, up from the current cap of 24 million acres, and preserve the Conservation Stewardship Program as a standalone program. The House-passed bill would have folded CSP into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
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Also this week, House Republicans may try again to pass a tax bill that includes a six-year extension and phaseout of the $1-a-gallon tax credit for biodiesel. GOP leaders pulled the bill from the floor on Friday because they were short of Republican support. Democrats don't like the bill in part because it includes fixes to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that they opposed.
The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said some GOP members were unhappy that the bill didn’t include provisions for coal.
Analysts with ClearView Energy Partners downgraded their outlook for the tax bill from “likely” to “viable” after the postponed vote. It’s also not clear the GOP can lure Senate Democratic votes by including an extension of electric vehicle credits. Trump last week threatened to kill the subsidy specifically for General Motors, raising questions about whether he would support an extension for any automakers.
A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, meanwhile, will debate future biofuel policy at a hearing on Wednesday.
The focus of the hearing will be a discussion draft that Environment Subcommittee chairman Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., introduced the day before Thanksgiving. The bill would replace the current biofuel mandates with a national octane standard and require new motor vehicles to handle ethanol blends up to 20 percent, twice the standard level currently.
The biofuel industry was immediately critical of the bill, which means the concepts would be a difficult sale in the Senate even if they could get through a Democratic House next year.
The current energy law, enacted in 2007, mandates specific blending levels of biofuels through 2022.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Dec. 3
American Seed Trade Association’s CSS 2018 & Seed Expo, through Thursday, Chicago.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks in Chicago to the Illinois Farm Bureau and at the DTN Ag Summit.
Missouri Farm Bureau kicks off their annual meeting in Osage Beach.
Tuesday, Dec. 4
California Farm Bureau's 100th Annual meeting through Friday, San Diego.
Wednesday, Dec. 5
Federal agencies closed to honor former President George H.W. Bush.
USA Rice Federation’s annual outlook conference, though Friday, San Diego.
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on The 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act - Discussion Draft, 2123 Rayburn.
Thursday, Dec. 6
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, "RAY BAUM’S Act: A Bipartisan Foundation for Bridging the Digital Divide,” 2123 Rayburn
Friday, Dec. 7
Continuing resolution funding some federal departments and agencies expires.
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