The Senate debates its massive, bipartisan infrastructure bill this week in hopes of sending the legislation off to the House before senators start their August recess.
The 2,702-page bill, which was formally offered on the Senate floor Sunday night after negotiators spent the weekend working out the text, would provide $550 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, waterways and rail improvements to Western water projects, electric charging stations and public transit.
“We want to be done (with the bill) by Thursday. We want to move on,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said last week that the bill's broadband section could be the target of amendments. The bill would provide $2 billion to USDA's ReConnect grant and loan program under expanded eligibility rules. Currently at least 90% of an eligible area must be considered unserved by high-speed internet service. The bill would lower that threshold to 50%, with a requirement that 10% of the funding be set aside for areas that meet the current, 90% threshold.
The bill faces an uncertain future in the House, because of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s insistence that the Senate also pass a partisan, $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package to fund Democratic climate provisions and domestic spending priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that after passing the infrastructure measure the Senate would pivot to acting on a budget resolution needed to facilitate the $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure.
"A bipartisan infrastructure bill is definitely necessary – but to many of us it is not sufficient," Schumer said. "That is why, soon after this bill passes the Senate, Democrats will press forward with a budget resolution to allow the Senate to make further, historic vitally important investments in American jobs, American families, and efforts to reverse climate change."
Democrats' proposals for the reconciliation package include $50 billion in new conservation program spending as well as tax proposals that would affect agriculture: One of their key revenue proposals is to end stepped-up basis and require that capital gains be taxed at death.
Manchin has yet to commit to supporting the reconciliation package — he has expressed concern both about the climate provisions as well as the impact on the economy of $3.5 trillion in new spending — and he said the infrastructure bill should be considered on its own in the House.
“We’re trying to show the country that we’re back and can do things in a bipartisan way,” he said of the infrastructure bill.
Another Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said last week that she wouldn't support the $3.5 trillion spending level.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told CNN she expected the infrastructure bill text to be released later Sunday and passed this week.
“Every senator can look at bridges and roads and need for more broadband, waterways in their states, seaports airports, and see the benefits, the very concrete benefits, no pun intended, of this legislation,” she said.
The Senate also starts work this week on the chamber's fiscal 2022 spending bills. The House passed its version of nine of the 12 bills last week, including a seven-bill package that includes funding for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department and Labor Department.
On Monday, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will take up its FY22 bill with funding for USDA and FDA. The subcommittee’s top Republican, John Hoeven from North Dakota, told Agri-Pulse he intends to include funding to cover disaster losses in 2020 and 2021 through an extension of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus.
The House version of the bill didn’t include new WHIP Plus funding, but the House Agriculture Committee last week approved a separate measure that would authorize as much as $8.5 billion for an expanded version of WHIP Plus. Among other things, the committee bill would extend assistance to farmers in areas that have experienced a drought classified as D2 (severe) for eight consecutive weeks; the aid has been limited to areas that suffered D3 (extreme) or D4 (exceptional) droughts.
The full Appropriations Committee will debate the FY22 Agriculture spending bill on Wednesday.
Also this week, the Senate Agriculture Committee will continue its work on President Joe Biden’s USDA nominations with a hearing for Homer Wilkes, Biden's pick to be undersecretary for natural resources and environment, which would provides oversight for the Forest Service. Wilkes is currently director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Division of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The House is out of session this week, having started its long August recess. There is the possibility of votes at some point during the period, however.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Aug. 2
Agricultural and Applied Economics Association annual meeting, through Tuesday.
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
5:45 p.m. — Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2022 spending bill, S-128 Dirksen.
Tuesday, Aug. 3
Wednesday, Aug. 4
10 a.m. — Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the FY22 Agriculture, Energy-Water and Military Conservation spending bills, 106 Dirksen.
Thursday, Aug. 5
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the nomination of Homer Wilkes to be USDA’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment.
Friday, Aug. 6
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