Lawmakers may clear the way for another round of Market Facilitation Program payments as well as other aid to producers as part of a massive economic stimulus package that the Senate is expected to consider on Monday.
Sen. John Hoeven, the North Dakota Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said Sunday that the bill would include a provision to replenish USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority and increase its limit from $30 billion to $50 billion. But Senate Democrats were raising concerns about the provisions.
The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said Monday on the Senate floor that she was trying to ensure that USDA would provide help more broadly than it has done through the MFP to date. She specifically cited tart-cherry producers, who are being hurt by competition from Turkey, she said. "We have to recognize all the needs," she said.
USDA used the CCC account to make MFP payments over the past two years to offset the impact of the president’s tariff war with China.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has told farmers not to expect additional MFP payments, but many farm groups have said they expect the money to be needed both because of sluggish exports and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and sources say USDA was supporting the increased spending authority.
“Our producers are really up against it right now, and the coronavirus pandemic is only compounding the challenges in farm country,” said Hoeven.
He said the legislation will enable USDA to use the CCC to make aid available to cattle producers. Prices of live cattle have fallen sharply since January.
The CCC provisions are very small part of the stimulus bill that congressional leaders and the White House were rushing to finalize over the weekend. The package — which National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said could top $2 trillion — also will include direct payments to millions of Americans as well as loans to small businesses that will be forgiven if they use the money to keep workers on their payrolls.
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Democrats at least temporarily blocked advancement of the package Sunday evening when a procedural vote failed 47-47. Sixty votes were needed to advance the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., angrily criticized Democrats for not supporting the motion even as the talks continued. "We're fiddling here, fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care," he said.
Ahead of the vote, Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., complained that the bill was still inadequate. “At the top of the list, it included a large corporate bailout provision, with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight. It also significantly cut back on the money our hospitals, our cities, our states, our medical workers and so many others needed during this crisis," he said.
Later in the evening, a Schumer spokesman said that the Democratic leader and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were "working late into the night, and they just had another productive meeting.”
Updated Monday with Stabenow comment.
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