The Senate is looking to finish work this week on a package of spending bills funding USDA and other agencies important to agriculture, but it increasingly appears that Congress won’t reach a final agreement on fiscal 2020 until after the first of the year.
A continuing resolution temporarily funding departments and agencies at FY19 levels expires Nov. 21, and lawmakers will have to pass another stopgap bill by then or risk the second partial government shutdown of the year. Fiscal 2020 started Oct. 1.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he hopes a final Senate vote will come before the end of this week on the FY20 spending package that includes USDA, FDA, EPA and the Interior Department among others. Senate approval of the package would set up negotiations with the House on four of the 12 annual spending bills.
Speaking to reporters outside the Senate chamber, Shelby expressed doubt that the Senate and House could finish work on all of the spending legislation before the end of the year. Nodding in the direction of the House chamber, “We’re probably going to be busy on other things.” House members are expected to be focused for weeks on the battle over whether to impeach President Donald Trump.
“Based on my experience, I could see it going into late January, February,” Shelby said of the spending negotiations.
One of the issues the House and Senate negotiators will eventually have to agree on is what to do about Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City area. The FY20 funding bill for USDA that the House passed in June would bar any funding for the relocation, but the legislation pending in the Senate would provide $25 million to finish carrying the move.
A senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, suggested the relocation was a fait accompli and expressed confidence that the final FY20 legislation would provide the funding USDA needs.
Many employees have already moved, "and I think we’re getting close to finalizing contracts on where the location will be (in the Kansas City area),” Blunt said. “It’s largely irreversible and the appropriations bill will recognize that before it goes to the president’s desk.”
Critics of the relocation are nevertheless mounting an effort to get negotiators to reject the relocation in the final legislation.
In a letter last week to Shelby and other leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, six senators and 26 House members pleaded for them to force USDA to keep the research agencies in the D.C. area.
“Maintaining these provisions would ensure that the vital research from several USDA scientific agencies remains connected to the National Capital Region and that they are able to maintain mission continuity and delivery of mission-critical work,” the lawmakers wrote.
On Monday, the Senate will vote on three amendments to its spending package, including one by Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., that would provide USDA with $5 million for a resending program authorized by the 2018 to resolve ownership and succession of “heirs’ property,” land that has been informally passed down by families. A second amendment, sponsored by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., would require a report from USDA on the challenges that food distribution programs face in reaching underserved populations.
Also this week, House Democrats will take aim at the Trump administration’s plan to reallocate biofuel volumes for which refineries have received exemptions. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on the issue Tuesday morning, a day before a EPA public hearing on the issue Wednesday in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Industry groups have sharply criticized the plan, saying the agency failed to follow a plan outlined earlier by the White House.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said last week that EPA’s actions “have done nothing but provide uncertainty and the potential for economic ruin.” But Perdue assured Trump at a Cabinet meeting last week that farmers will like EPA’s plan “once they fully understand what you’ve done here.”
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Oct. 28
4 p.m. USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Oct. 29
Environmental Markets and Finance Summit, through Thursday, Mandarin Oriental.
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, “Repurposing the C-Band to benefit all Americans,” 2322 Rayburn.
10:30 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, “Protecting the RFS: the Trump administration’s abuse of secret waivers,” 2123 Rayburn.
Wednesday, Oct. 30
EPA hearing on Renewable Fuel Standard supplemental rule, Ypsilanti, Mich.
National FFA Convention, through Saturday, Indianapolis.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the state of organic agriculture, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on sexual harassment in the Interior Department, 1324 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the use of technology to increase water security in the West, 366 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. - House Climate Crisis Committee hearing, "Solving the Climate Crisis: Opportunities in Agriculture," 210 Cannon.
Thursday, Oct. 31
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
Friday, Nov. 1
Noon - USDA releases select commodity tables for the Agricultural Projections to 2029.
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