The Trump administration and House Democrats have yet to reach a coronavirus relief deal, and billions in agriculture funding and food assistance increases hang in the balance as the high-level talks move slowly.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have been working over the last week to get to some agreement, but both sides have reported being very far apart in their negotiations.
But after a roughly three-hour meeting with Mnuchin and Meadows Saturday morning (the longest so far), Pelosi and Schumer emerged in a brighter mood than before.
"We're not close yet but it was a productive discussion and each side knows where they're at," Schumer told reporters Saturday afternoon, noting there's still a ways to go. He said staff from both sides will be meeting Sunday and the four would meet again Monday.
"I think we would also characterize the discussions as the most productive we've had to date," Mnuchin told reporters, but cautioned there's still a lot of work to do.
Mnuchin said there is clearly a desire on the part of congressional Democrats to do an entire package. "We've made it clear that we're willing to deal with short-term issues and pass something quickly and come back to the larger issues. So we're at an impasse on that," he said.
Despite virus relief talks staying close to the top, Sen. John Boozman of R-Ark., a top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, and top Democrat Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., say they are discussing ag provisions.
“Regarding the ag piece, I think we could sit down with our counter parts ... again and hammer out the ag aspect but there’s so many moving parts to this that affects so many different things, it really makes it difficult,” Boozman told Agri-Pulse.
Stabenow said Thursday an increase in food assistance should be in the upcoming package, something Pelosi also mentioned in her Friday press briefing. It was not included in the GOP’s proposal, but was in the House-passed HEROES Act.
Stabenow noted she’s had discussions with Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts and Boozman on increasing the maximum benefit in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program by 15% but received no commitments so far.
“What we are talking about is very modest,” Stabenow told Agri-Pulse. “We’re talking about (Republicans) objecting to less than a dollar a day.” She also wants the minimum SNAP benefit increased from $16 a month to $30.
Boozman said he understands the importance of SNAP and does not want people to go hungry, especially children who could potentially miss out on school meals if some school districts do not reopen this fall.
There's also the matter of how to handle the language authorizing new direct payments to producers. Stabenow says she's worried about giving flexibility to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue with the new funding, something House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has also shared.
The House was scheduled adjourn for August recess last Friday but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told members to keep their schedules open.
“We will not start the August district work period until we pass appropriate COVID-19 relief,” Hoyer told members on the House floor Friday morning.
Hoyer said they will be given at least 24 hours’ notice before the House will be called back into session. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn this Friday but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters earlier in the week he would keep everyone posted if things change.
Here is a list of agriculture or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, August 3
4 p.m. — USDA Crop Progress report
Tuesday, August 4
State primary elections in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington
Wednesday, August 5
10 a.m. — Senate Commerce oversight hearing on the Federal Trade Commission
Thursday, August 6
3 p.m. — USDA Agricultural Land Values report
Friday, August 7
Noon — Farm Credit East hosts webinar on 2020 Midyear Dairy Outlook
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com