The budget impasse that has closed down most of USDA and other agencies important to agriculture for more than four weeks reaches a new stage this week as Senate Republicans force a vote on President Donald Trump’s latest proposal to congressional Democrats.
Democratic leaders rejected the president's proposal out of hand on Saturday, demanding that Trump first allow the government to reopen before they negotiate on his border security demands.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would put the measure on the Senate floor this week, but he will need the support of at least seven Democrats. Republicans control the Senate 53-47.
“With bipartisan cooperation, the Senate can send a bill to the House quickly so that they can take action as well,” McConnell said.
“The situation for furloughed employees isn’t getting any brighter and the crisis at the border isn’t improved by show votes. But the President’s plan is a path toward addressing both issues quickly.”
Trump on Saturday proposed to extend legal status for three years to the Dreamers, people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, in return for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.
Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox News Sunday the president was willing to negotiate further.
"The president is offering a solution. What we have from the Democrat leadership so far is sound bites," he said.
If nothing else, the proposal will allow McConnell to go on the offensive. He has been refusing to hold votes on a series of bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House to open the government without providing the border wall funding that Trump wants.
This week, House Democrats are looking to ratchet up the pressure on Republicans by forcing them to vote on a package of six fiscal 2019 spending bills that were negotiated between the House and Senate last year but never released or put up for votes. The bills include agreements on spending for USDA, FDA, the Interior Department and the EPA.
The Senate-House agreement on USDA includes an additional $550 million to fund a rural broadband loan and grant program created by Congress with $600 million in 2018.
The bill also would continue bans on the slaughter of horses and on the use of chicken imported from China in the school lunch program.
House Democrats earlier forced votes on the Senate-passed version of four bills that would fund USDA, the Interior Department, EPA, FDA and other departments and agencies through Sept. 30.
Republicans argued against passing those bills on the basis that they ignored House priorities. They won’t be able to make the same argument with the omnibus, since the omnibus reflects agreements worked out between the House and Senate.
“We should pass this bill, reopen the government, and pay our federal employees,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said in releasing the package of Senate-House spending deals. “After we do that, we can have robust negotiations on border security and immigration policy.”
About half the Farm Service Agency county offices will open Tuesday for a third and final day to provide 1099 tax forms and service existing loans. The offices also were opened Thursday and Friday. Monday is a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 21
International Dairy Foods Association annual Dairy Forum, through Wednesday, Orlando.
National Biodiesel Conference and Expo, through Thursday, San Diego.
Tuesday, Jan. 22
5 p.m. — House Rules Committee meeting to consider the conference report on the omnibus spending bill, 313-H Capitol.
Wednesday, Jan. 23
Thursday, Jan. 24
9 a.m. — Energy Information Administration releases its Annual Energy Outlook, Bipartisan Policy Center, 1225 Eye St NW.
10 a.m. — U.S. Energy Association 15th Annual State of the Energy Industry Forum, National Press Club.
Friday, Jan. 25
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