House Democratic leaders look to finally push through on Monday a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that a handful of conservative Republicans blocked from passing while most lawmakers were out of town for the 10-day Memorial Day recess.
The legislation will benefit a wide array of farmers, including producers hammered by hurricanes and wildfires last fall to thousands of growers who have struggled to plant crops this spring because of the historic parade of storms across the nation’s mid-section.
The Senate passed the bill, 85-8, on May 23 after congressional Democrats reached agreement with Republicans and the White House on the measure, but the legislation still needs to clear the House before going to President Donald Trump for his signature. House members had already left town when the Senate voted on the bill, and the GOP conservatives subsequently blocked on three separate occasions attempts to pass the measure on a voice vote.
With lawmakers back in town Monday, the House will take up the bill for a fourth time under an accelerated procedure that will require it to pass by at least a two-thirds margin. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he expected the bill to pass with “overwhelming support.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., used the weekly Democratic address this weekend to chastise the Republicans who delayed the bill's passage.
"These individuals understand that they are a small minority of the House of Representatives and that they are simply delaying the inevitable,” he said. “That’s why I find is so unfathomable and unconscionable that they have chosen this moment to try to score putrid political points when Americans all over the country are pleading, pleading for our help.”
But Jessica Anderson, vice president of Heritage Action, defended the House Republicans, saying Congress “should not be taking shortcuts and cutting out debate on a bill that would increase spending by $19.1 billion with zero offsets.”
The bill, which includes an estimated $5.5 billion in agricultural spending, would provide payments to producers for prevented plantings, flood damage to stored grain and compensation for crops that were destroyed by last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.
Just ahead of the vote on Monday, USDA will release its weekly Crop Progress report, which traders will be closely watching for the pace of planting in the Midwest. As of May 26, farmers had planted just 58% of the intended corn crop, way behind the 90% average at this point in the spring. Analysts are expecting Monday’s report to show that planting will be about 71% complete.
The final crop insurance planting dates for corn in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan are coming up Wednesday. The final planting dates for corn passed on Friday for Iowa and much of Minnesota and Wisconsin and even earlier for the northern Plains states. After those dates, the insurance coverage goes down 1% a day.
With the disaster bill out of the way, work on the fiscal 2020 spending bills is likely to dominate business on Capitol Hill in June. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will consider the FY20 bill for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
The bill includes a provision to block Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from relocating the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the national capital region.
The legislation also would order the department to modify the origin of livestock requirements for organic dairy cows. USDA has never finalized changes proposed by the Obama administration in 2015.
The ERS-NIFA provision may soon be moot. Perdue said last week that he would announce the new site for the agencies in a few weeks and employees are expected to begin moving soon after.
But Democrats are keeping the pressure on Perdue nevertheless. The relocation plan also will be the subject of a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
The Ag spending bill rejects White House proposals to slash spending for international food aid, agricultural research, rural development and other programs and proposes no cuts in farm bill conservation programs, which congressional appropriators have frequently dipped into to fund other priorities,
USDA’s research programs would receive $3.3 billion under the bill, $387 million more than President Trump requested, and $680 million is earmarked for the expansion of rural broadband service.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, June 3
American Association of Pesticide Control Officials meeting, through Tuesday, Potomac Yards, Crystal City, Va.
12:30 p.m. - EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at the National Press Club.
Tuesday, June 4
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nomination of Robert Wallace to be assistant secretary of the Interior for fish and wildlife, Dirksen 406
10:15 a.m. - House Education and Labor subcommittee hearing, “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service," 2175 Rayburn.
10:30 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the fiscal 2020 Transportation-HUD and Agriculture spending bills, 2359 Rayburn.
1:45 p.m.. - American Enterprise Institute forum, “Europe’s populist and Brexit economic challenge,” 1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Wednesday, June 5
EPA Science Advisory Board meeting, through Thursday, 1315 K Street, NW.
9:30 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on ERS/NIFA relocation, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the nomination of Robert Wallace to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife, Dirksen 366.
Thursday, June 6
Friday, June 7
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