The House and Senate are pursuing a deal on disaster aid with just two weeks left until the self-imposed deadline of Memorial Day and little sign of progress on the major reasons for the impasse.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, meanwhile, continues a trip in Asia this week where he has been attending a G20 meeting of agriculture ministers and making the case for a trade agreement with Japan. He also will be in South Korea.
Also this week, employees of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculrure are expected to hear by Wednesday where Perdue has decided to relocate the agencies. Sites in three areas made the finalists’ list: Kansas City, Indiana and the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. region.
The move faces stiff opposition from Democrats, and ERS employees voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize, but Perdue has not backed off his plan to move the agencies.
President Trump on Friday pushed lawmakers to keep working toward an agreement on disaster aid that meets his demands to limit assistance for Puerto Rico. The White House also has been at odds with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on other issues, including spending from the harbor maintenance trust fund.
The Democratic-controlled House on Friday passed a $19.1 billion disaster aid package, 257-150. But with Trump opposed to the measure, only 34 Republicans voted for it, and they were predominantly from regions, including the Southeast, as well as Iowa and Nebraska, that were hit by disasters. The bill would authorize $3 billion in payments to producers hit by hurricanes, wildfires and flooding. A provision in the bill would also allow farmers to get compensation for stored corn and soybeans that were damaged by the Missouri River flooding in March.
Trump took to Twitter to praise most of the House Republican conference for siding with him. “We will now work out a bipartisan solution that gets relief for our great States and Farmers,” he said.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, led the GOP opposition to the measure. “I know we can do better, and I know we can solve this. … This has gone on too long.”
The House vote allowed Democrats to keep the pressure on Republicans to pass a bill and highlight efforts by at least one vulnerable member, first-term Iowa Democrat Cindy Axne, to help her flood-ravaged district. She co-sponsored an amendment with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., that would add $300 million to USDA’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which helps fund debris removal and repair of levees and other infrastructure.
"From my firsthand experience in these flooded areas, I can attest to the serious damage and hazards that these communities face,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he wants a bipartisan bill passed before the week-long Memorial Day recess.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., expressed frustration over what he said was a lack of progress during negotiations on the bill last week. The disagreements have been as much between Republicans and the White House at times as between Republicans and Democrats. Shelby, for example, has been battling with the White House over spending rom the harbor fund for port reconstruction.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who also is Trump’s acting chief of staff, has been deeply involved in the negotiations. Asked if Mulvaney was an obstacle to a deal, Shelby said “he’s not a solution at the moment. I would wish we could get on board together.”
Shelby said the impasse over disaster aid doesn’t bode well for other issues coming facing lawmakers this year. They have yet to agree on spending caps for fiscal 2020, which starts Oct. 1, or on rising the federal debt limit.
Perdue started his Asia trip on Saturday in Japan, where he spoke at a G-20 seminar on the need to use technology to increase global agricultural production. He also met with counterparts from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Mexico to discuss coordinating on global agriculture issues.
Meeting with Japanese reporters on Saturday, Perdue deflected questions about what the United States was seeking in a trade agreement with their country beyond saying that a deal should be “mutually beneficial.”
On Monday, Perdue will attend a U.S. Meat Export Federation promotional event to highlight the importance of the Japanese market, and on Tuesday he will speak at Cotton Council International’s annual Cotton Day.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, May 13
National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual Washington Watch, through Wednesday, Holiday Inn Capitol Hill.
Tuesday, May 14
2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on various public land bills, 366 Dirksen
Wednesday, May 15
9:30 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service, Dirksen 124
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Council on Environmental Quality, 406 Dirksen
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on conservation programs, 1300 Longworth
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the Federal Communications Commission, 2123 Rayburn
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Department of Interior budget, 1324 Longworth
Noon - House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2020 spending bill, 2362-B Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY20 spending bill, 2008 Rayburn.
Thursday, May 16
All day - FDA public meeting to discuss “Responsible Innovation in Dietary Supplements, 5001 Campus Drive College Park, Md.
9 a.m.. - U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Supply Chain Summit, 1615 H Street NW.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the Energy Policy Act of 2005, 366 Dirksen.
2 p.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Geological Survey, 1324 Longworth
Friday, May 17
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