The partial government shutdown that has shuttered much of USDA, the Interior Department and other agencies heads into its third week, but President Donald Trump expressed optimism Sunday that there would be "serious" negotiations on his demands for border wall funding.
USDA announced that it had canceled release on Friday of the annual Crop Production report and the closely watched World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, which are released monthly. USDA officials said they would not have time to prepare the reports even if funding is restored before Friday.
The shutdown had already halted USDA's preliminary work on implementing the 2018 farm bill and stopped the processing of loan and grant programs, including the Market Facilitation Program set up to compensate farmers for commodity price drops that resulted from the president's trade policy.
Trump sent mixed signals on ahead of a meeting Saturday between Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and congressional staff. Trump told Democratic leaders on Friday that he was prepared for the shutdown to go on for "months or even years" but he later told reporters that the government would reopen “sooner than people think.”
A summary of Saturday’s meeting provided by Pence’s office described the session as “productive” and said Nielsen provided “a full briefing on the crisis at the Southern border” but that there was no in-depth discussion about funding amounts.
Trump told reporters Sunday morning that he thinks "we're going to have some very serious talks come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday."
To keep pressure on congressional Republicans, House Democrats announced Sunday that they were introducing a series of spending bills that could fund USDA and other departments and agencies through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The bills mirror the Senate version of fiscal 2019 spending measures, but the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to consider the House Democrat bills since they won't have Trump's support.
House Democrats have separately released a disaster aid package that would provide $1.1 billion in aid to farmers who lost crops and trees to last year’s hurricanes. Payments would be modeled after a 2017 disaster aid program, but the Democratic package would increase the potential benefits, a priority for the new chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.
The limit on recovering crop losses would be increased from 85 to 90 percent for producers with crop insurance and from 65 percent to 70 percent for growers without it, changes sought by cotton producers whose crops were destroyed by Hurricane Michael before they were harvested.
The bill also would make it easier for pecan producers to quality for the Tree Assistance Program created by the 2014 farm bill by lowering the threshold for tree mortality to 7.5 percent, down from the current limit of 15 percent.
Democrats haven’t scheduled action on the bill, but Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said they were “committed to ensuring that American families and communities have the resources they need to recover from recent natural disasters."
New members of Appropriations and other House committees, which are flipping from Republican to Democratic majorities this year, are expected to be announced this week.
On the trade front this week, USDA’s undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, Ted McKinney, and the U.S. Trade Representative’s chief agricultural negotiator, Gregg Doud are in China to take part in negotiations aimed at ending the ongoing dispute that has roiled the farm economy.
"I think that things are going to happen," Trump said Sunday when asked about the trade dispute with China.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 7
Tuesday, Jan. 8
5 p.m. - House Rules Committee meeting to consider rule for appropriations bills, including Agriculture and Interior-Environment, H-313 Capitol.
Wednesday, Jan. 9
Thursday, Jan. 10
9:30 a.m. — State of American Business address by Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, 1615 H Street NW.
Friday, Jan. 11
American Farm Bureau Federation 2019 AFBF Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show, through Jan. 16, New Orleans.
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