President Donald Trump is proposing increases in spending for high-speed internet and other types of rural infrastructure as part of his fiscal 2021 budget.
The budget scheduled for release on Monday will include $25 billion for a new "Revitalizing Rural America" grant program for high-speed internet and transportation projects, according to an administration source.
No details of the proposal, including how it would be funded, were provided by the White House or Agriculture Department.
The budget will request $250 million for the USDA’s ReConnect broadband loan and grant program, $300 million less than Congress provided for FY20. Congress authorized the program in 2018. Trump requested $200 million in budget authority for the program in FY20.
"E-connectivity for rural America is essential for ensuring America’s economic competitiveness and enabling all Americans to be plugged in to a world of opportunity," USDA said in a 2017 report by a special task force on agriculture and rural development.
Details of the rural funding requests were first reported by USA Today.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox Business last week that infrastructure would be a legislative priority for the administration this year. Otherwise, the issue “will be at the top of the list after the election,” Mnuchin said.
Farm groups will be watching Monday to see if the budget repeats proposals in Trump’s FY20 budget to slash crop insurance and tighten commodity program eligibility limits, ideas that have little chance of passing Congress and would require reopening the 2018 farm bill.
Also this week, the House is expected to approve a Senate-passed bill that would authorize Customs and Border Protection to hire 240 new agriculture specialties and to train and deploy 20 new inspection dog teams at ports of entry.
The increase in inspectors and canine teams is intended to protect the entry from plant and animal diseases, including the African swine fever virus that has devastated pork production in China.
The bill, which is being fast-tracked in the House, is listed on the suspension calendar for Monday. It will require a two-thirds majority to pass the House without going through the slower process required for more controversial bills. House passage would send the bill to Trump for his signature.
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The bill passed the Senate last fall by unanimous consent. “We need more agricultural inspectors at our borders to protect farmers and consumers from threats to our food supply,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a co-sponsor of the bill and the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
This week the Democratic-controlled House also will debate a package of bills called the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act, that would designate 1.4 million acres as wilderness or potential wilderness areas in western states.
On the trade front, top-level British trade officials are already making the rounds in the U.S. ahead of negotiations that are expected to launch soon now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union.
British Minister for International Trade Conor Burns visited Texas last week as part of the country’s push to strengthen trade ties with the U.S. and other U.K. representatives are in Washington this week for low-key talks, according to government sources.
Burns told KBTX-TV that Brexit allows Britain “to look beyond the European Union for trading partners, to rekindle old friendships. The United States is our No. 1 ambition, alongside the EU, to do a future free trade agreement.”
The presidential election season continues this week with the first primary of the year on Tuesday in New Hampshire. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg by four points in the latest RealClearPolitics average of recent polls in the state.
Turnout also will be watched as a gauge of Democratic voters’ enthusiasm. Turnout at last week’s Iowa caucuses was similar to 2016 and well behind the record set in 2008.
The chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Raymond Buckley, told MSNBC on Friday that he didn’t expect a surge of voters on Tuesday either, but he insisted that Democrats would show up en masse in November. “I think they will be there when it counts,” he said.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Feb. 10
National Ethanol Conference, Houston.
Tuesday, Feb. 11
New Hampshire presidential primary.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on local agriculture, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with the USDA inspector general, 2362-A Rayburn.
Wednesday, Feb. 12
9 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations hearing on the Farm Credit Administration, 2362-A Rayburn.
The 56th annual Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau (CIRB) meeting kicks off in Bonita Springs, Florida
Thursday, Feb. 13
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
8:30 a.m. - Earth Day Network and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication release report and host panel discussion on “New Research and Insights On Consumer Food Habits Related to Climate Change,” National Press Club.
Friday, Feb. 14
Noon - USDA releases Agricultural Projections to 2029.
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