President Donald Trump heads to New Orleans Monday to speak to the nation’s largest farm organization for a second year in a row, even as his trade war drags on and the shutdown of USDA and other departments and agencies important to agriculture enters its fourth week.
Members of the American Farm Bureau Federation will be eager to hear reasons for optimism that an end is in sight to the shutdown, as well as to the ongoing trade disputes with China, Mexico and Canada that have depressed prices for soybeans and other commodities.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall told reporters Sunday that he will personally raise concerns with Trump about the impact of the shutdown on farmers. USDA has halted implementation of the 2018 farm bill and stopped the processing of loans as well as the Market Facilitation Program payments that are intended to compensate farmers for losses caused by the administration’s trade policy.
“I will be expressing to him that even though he’s not directly trying to hurt our farmers this shutdown is going to hurt our farmers,” Duvall said.
House Democrats forced votes last week on four bills that would fund USDA, the Interior Department, EPA, FDA and other departments and agencies through Sept. 30, but Senate Republicans are refusing to consider any spending bills until Democrats reach a deal with Trump over his demands for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham, R-S.D., suggested on Fox News Sunday that Trump should agree to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations over the wall funding continue.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, speaking to reporters at the Farm Bureau meeting, expressed support for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refusal to take up a bill to end the shutdown that doesn’t have Trump’s support, but Roberts also said the shutdown needs to end.
Roberts, R-Kan., said that the trade war and shutdown were both like “shattered glass.”
“You just don’t know who is going to be affected,” he said. “I don’t know of any (government shutdown) that has ever worked to achieve its goal.”
Also this week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday for Andrew Wheeler to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler is likely to be pressed about issues such as climate change, the rewrite of the “waters of the U.S.” rule, and his policy for granting small refinery waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Amid the bitter partisan impasse over the budget and border wall, there could be some bipartisan agreement this week on another issue, providing disaster aid to farmers and others hurt by last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.
A supplemental appropriations bill would provide an estimated $2.5 billion to farmers who lost crops and trees to last fall’s hurricanes, and there is an effort to expand the package even further on the floor with a series of amendments.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, which will meet Tuesday to decide whether the amendments get votes, said he expected a majority of the 199 House Republicans to vote for the bill, and that Rules Chairman Jim McGovern would allow GOP amendments to be debated.
The bulk of the aid would be provided in payments modeled after a disaster aid program enacted last year for 2017 losses but with increased coverage levels sought by cotton growers who lost their crops to Hurricane Michael. The limit on recovering crop losses from 85 to 90 percent for producers with crop insurance and from 65 percent to 70 percent for growers without it.
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., has filed an amendment with bipartisan support that would increase the authorized funding level by $4.3 billion. A second amendment on which Scott is the lead sponsor also would allow USDA to tap funds from the aid bill that covered the 2017 disasters.
An amendment by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., would allow vineyards that were tainted by smoke in 2018 to get payments even though the damage wasn’t discovered until after the grapes were harvested.
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla, is sponsoring amendments that would expand the list of eligible crops to include fluid milk and blueberries at any development stage.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 14
American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, through Wednesday, New Orleans. President Donald Trump addresses AFBF.
Tuesday, Jan. 15
9:30 a.m. — Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of William Barr to be attorney general, 216 Hart.
3 p.m. — House Rules Committee hearing on a supplemental appropriations bill, 313-H Capitol.
Wednesday, Jan. 16
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be administrator of the EPA, 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, Jan. 17
Friday, Jan. 18
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