House Democratic leaders are aiming to push through a stopgap spending bill this week after threatening a fight with the White House, and potentially with some of their own rural members, over a plan that could jeopardize farmers’ trade aid payments. 

A continuing resolution needs to pass by Oct. 1 to keep the government funded into the new fiscal year. House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., has been considering leaving out an administration request to replenish the $30 billion Commodity Credit Corp. account that USDA uses to make the Market Facilitation Program payments. 

“We cannot cut a lifeline to struggling farmers. I will not support a CR that doesn’t include tariff aid,” first-term Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, tweeted on Friday after word spread of the plan that could at least slow delivery of the latest round of MFP payments. 

A spokesman for Lowey said that discussions over the draft CR were continuing. 

A key Senate appropriator, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, vowed to ensure that the payments would continue flowing. Hoeven chairs the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls USDA’s budget. 

The CR must be passed because lawmakers are nowhere close to finishing work on the 12 spending bills needed to fund the government in fiscal 2020. 

The House has passed 10 of its 12 bills, but on the Senate side, the Appropriations Committee is just getting started. The committee last week approved its spending limits for each of the bills and began moving the first of the 12 measures. Subcommittees will start on several more on Tuesday, including the Agriculture bill, which funds the Food and Drug Administration as well as USDA. 

Spending for discretionary programs under the Agriculture bill, those programs that are subject to annual appropriations, unlike farm bill programs and many nutrition programs, would be funded at $23.1 billion, just above the fiscal 2019 level. 

The House-passed version of the bill is funded at just under $24 billion, not including money for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. (The House includes the CFTC in its version of the Agriculture bill, but the Senate funds the CFTC through its Financial Services bill.)

Hoeven said his subcommittee is hoping to put together “the best package they can” to fund the agencies

The Senate limit for the Interior-Environment bill, which funds EPA, the Interior Department, and the Forest Service, was set at $35.8 billion, well below the $37.3 billion in the House-passed bill and slightly above the FY19 level for those agencies of $35.6 billion. 

The Senate and House will have to negotiate the final spending levels later, but senators first have to resolve internal disputes that forced Republican leaders to postpone action on two bills last week. Democrats angered Republicans by seeking to include an abortion-related measure in the bill that funds the Department of Health and Human Services. Democrats, in turn, complained that Republicans were seeking to divert funds from HHS and other agencies to fund the U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

Despite the partisan struggle, the top Democrat on Senate Appropriations, Pat Leahy of Vermont, said the committee would continue trying to move bills. “There was a time if you had any disagreements, you wouldn’t even have a markup, we’re going to have markups on everything,” he told reporters last week. 

Also this week, USDA’s Farm Service Agency will be appealing to dairy farmers to sign up for the Dairy Margin Coverage program ahead of Friday’s enrollment deadline. The agency, which needs to begin enrollment for 2020, has given no indication that the 2019 deadline will be extended. 

The program, which is an overhauled version of the old Margin Protection Program, was structured to make to provide payments to producers. Sign-up started in June, but nearly half of nation’s licensed dairy operations have not enrolled yet. 

As of last week, 19,132 operations have signed up, which is 51% of the total dairy operations in the country and 71% of the farms that previously established their production history with FSA. Because coverage is retroactive to Jan. 1, farmers already know they can make money under the program's Tier 1. At the top coverage level of $9.50 per hundredweight a producer who enrolls 5 million pounds of production is already guaranteed a payment of $27,083 this year, and the premium will be at most $7,500. Producers who sign up for five years get a 25% discount on the premium. 

“Essentially, if producers choose not to enroll at least their first 5 million pounds under DMC, they are forgoing income that could help their dairy farm operation,” according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

Hear more about the issues facing the dairy industry in this week's Open Mic podcast featuring U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tom Vilsack. 

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Sep. 16

United Fresh Produce Association conference, through Wednesday, Grand Hyatt Washington. 

AmericanHort conference, through Wednesday, The Liaison. 

4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, Sep. 17

11:30 a.m. — Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2020 spending bill, 192 Dirksen.

2:15 p.m. — Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY20 bill, 124 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. — Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on enforcement of antitrust laws, 226 Dirksen.

3 p.m. — Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its FY20 bill, 192 Dirksen.

Wednesday, Sep. 18

10 a.m. — House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, “The Administration’s Priorities and Policy Initiatives Under the Clean Water Act,” 2167 Rayburn.

10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “Improving American Economic Competitiveness through Water Resources Infrastructure,406 Dirksen.

Thursday, Sep. 19

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report. 

10 a.m. — House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, 2318 Rayburn.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the FY20 Transportation-HUD and Agriculture bills, 106 Dirksen.

Friday, Sep. 20

Deadline for Dairy Margin Coverage enrollment.

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