Democratic leaders are trying to nail down an agreement this week on President Joe Biden’s Build Build Better package of social spending and climate policy ahead of his pivotal trip to Europe for a G-20 summit and the international climate conference in Glasgow.
Getting a deal on the spending package, if not a final vote, is seen as critical to getting progressives to vote for the Senate-passed infrastructure bill that has been stalled in the House since August. The Democratic leadership’s goal is to pass the infrastructure bill by this coming Sunday, when a temporary extension of highway spending programs expires.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was pressed Sunday on CNN's State of the Union to say whether there would be both a deal on the Build Back Better bill and approval of the infrastructure bill this week. "That's the plan," she replied.
Pelosi insisted that the negotiations were 90% complete.
"We just have some of the last decisions to be made," she said. The bill will be smaller than "was projected to begin with, but it's still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America's working families."
She also said the bill would be about $2 trillion.
Biden met Sunday in Delaware with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and one of two pivotal Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The White House issued a statement later saying that the three men "continued to make progress, will have their staffs work on follow-ups from the meeting, and agreed to stay in close touch with each other and the wide range of members who have worked hard on these negotiations."
Biden needs a deal on the Build Back Better Act to show that the United States can meet his pledge to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a commitment Biden announced in April. A key goal of the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow is to ensure that national governments are committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and that means pushing countries to make more ambitious commitments for 2030.
The House's $3.5 trillion version of the Build Back Better act included more than $90 billion in climate-related provisions for agriculture, including $28 billion in conservation spending. The bill also contained a plan for utilities to switch from fossil fuels to clean energy through a combination of subsidies and penalties, but that provision is expected to be dropped from the final bill, possibly in favor of offering grants to utilities.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday played down the importance of having the Build Back Better bill passed before the Glasgow conference.
“We don't need Congress (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions). We can do it without Congress,” she said, noting some measures the administration has taken to promote a shift to electric vehicles and clean energy.
“He has signed multiple executive orders to make sure that we are leading in this effort,” she said.
As part of the administration's plan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last month announced that his department would fund a series of demonstration projects aimed at testing the possibility of scaling up markets for emissions offsets and low-carbon products. The projects would likely be funded using the department's authority under the Commodity Credit Corp.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said last week she was hopeful any cut to the ag provisions in the final bill would be limited. She said those provisions, which also include funding for agricultural research, forestry and biofuel infrastructure, would provide “a lot of emissions reductions.”
Another key question as Democrats struggle to reach a final deal is whether the tax provisions needed to pay for the measure will affect farmers. The idea of taxing capital gains at death, effectively nullifying the benefits of stepped-up basis, is by all accounts dead. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has reportedly approved an alternative proposal to tax billionaires’ capital gains on an annual basis.
Also this week, the House Agriculture Committee will be holding a hearing Tuesday on biotechnology, an issue that has taken on new saliency amid concerns about making farmers more resilient to climate change.
Based on the latest estimate of USDA’s Economic Research Service, global agricultural productivity has been growing at an annual rate of 1.36%, well below the rate of 1.73% needed to keep up with rising food demand between now and 2050, according to the 2021 Global Agricultural Productivity report released last week by Virginia Tech.
The Senate Agriculture Committee, meanwhile, will hold a hearing Wednesday on Biden’s nomination of Ross Behnam to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Behnam, a former aide to the committee, was originally confirmed to a seat on the commission in 2017.
At the CFTC, Behnam has taken the lead in pushing for the financial system to start accounting for the financial risks of climate change. In 2020, Behnam issued a report that said that climate change is “impacting, and is projected to impact, not only commercial agriculture in the United States, but also the ecological systems and biodiversity that agricultural systems rely on for everything from the provision of clean water to healthy forests."
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Oct. 25
9 a.m. — USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Oct. 26
9:30 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Maria Pagan to be deputy U.S. trade representative in Geneva, 215 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee hearing on agricultural biotechnology, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. — House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, “Are FEMA’s Assistance Programs Adequately Designed to Assist Communities Before, During, and After Wildfire?” 2167 Rayburn.
2 p.m. — National Press Club forum, “Regenerative Agriculture: The Cure for Climate Change?”
Wednesday, Oct. 27
9 a.m. — Farm Foundation webinar, “Keeping the Farm Together: Issues and Impacts of Current Tax Proposals.”
9:40 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Rostin Behnam's nomination to be chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 216 Hart.
Thursday, Oct. 28
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10:30 a.m. — House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing, “International Climate Challenges and Opportunities,” 210 Cannon.
Friday, Oct. 29
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