Democrats hope to get President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill to the finish line in December, but first they face a more urgent stalemate with Republicans ahead of Friday’s expiration of a stopgap funding bill.
The massive Build Back Better bill, which is critical to Biden’s climate policy as well as funding a range of social priorities, passed the House ahead of the Thanksgiving break, but it’s far from clear when and how Senate Democrats can unify on the legislation.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could delay passage into the new year. Manchin, who's expected to demand cuts to the House-passed bill, could support the legislation in December but is “more inclined to wait and watch how inflation plays out,” Axios reported last week.
Democrats also are waiting to see what provisions, including some involving immigration, may have to be stricken from the measure because of objections from the Senate parliamentarian. The budget reconciliation process that Democrats are using to move the bill bars the inclusion of what the parliamentarian determines are non-budgetary provisions.
Senate Democrats also need to address some timing challenges that were identified in cost estimates issued by the Congressional Budget Office ahead of the House vote on the bill. Under budget reconciliation rules, the spending authorized by a bill must take place within a 10-year window after the measure is enacted. The legislation would authorize $27.1 billion in new conservation funding, but CBO estimates that only $23.5 billion of that would be allocated before the end of fiscal 2031, the last year that the Build Back Better legislation could affect spending if it takes effect in FY22.
Ferd Hoefner, a veteran farm policy analyst, says the spending gap in conservation funding appears to be due in part to the extended time CBO thinks it would take the Agriculture Department to distribute $7.5 billion that the bill would allocate to the farm bill's Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which leverages funding from non-federal sources, including companies, non-governmental sources and state and local governments.
Similarly, CBO projects that less than $1.85 billion of the bill’s $2 billion in authorized ag research funding would be spent by the end of FY31.
There are even bigger discrepancies in other areas of the bill, including energy, Hoefner notes.
Republicans can do nothing to stop the bill, if all 50 Senate Democrats unite behind, but GOP lawmakers can be expected to attack the bill relentlessly.
"We have record inflation right now," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Fox News Sunday. "I view this as a back-breaking bill for the country with the kind of expenses, the spending, the adding to the debt, the inflation, the taxes that are going to hit the American people.
Meanwhile this week, Republicans and Democrats have made little to no progress in negotiating the annual appropriations for departments and agencies for the 2022 fiscal year. The continuing resolution that has been funding the government at FY21 levels since FY22 started Oct. 1 expires Friday. The government will shut down partially unless Congress passes another CR before then.
Further complicating things for Democrats is that Congress will soon need to raise the federal debt ceiling again to keep the government from hitting its borrowing limit. Republicans have insisted that Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to do that.
The Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling on Republicans to start negotiating with them on a final FY22 spending bill. But Republicans say they won’t agree to a fiscal 2022 spending deal until Democrats agree on some unspecified policy riders.
Senate appropriators haven't agreed among themselves yet on FY22 spending levels, and no annual appropriations measure can pass the Senate without Republican support.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reached agreement on a few FY22 spending bills this summer, including the Agriculture measure that funds USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. But Democrats in October released an additional tranche of bills, including the measure to fund the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency, that have no GOP support, while also differing from what the House has passed.
The Senate committee's partisan Interior-EPA bill would increase the budget for the EPA budget by $1.3 billion to more than $10.5 billion. The House version would provide about $11.3 billion for EPA.
In a recent Dear Colleague letter, House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the consequences of not passing FY22 spending legislation is “reckless, irresponsible and would prevent us from making critical funding adjustments in our federal budget to address ongoing and new challenges the American people face."
DeLauro went on, “Republicans have demanded that the Democrats separate and recede on an unknown number of policy issues before conference negotiations get underway. This breaks from past practice of negotiating the appropriations bills in their entirety.”
But the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, told reporters that Congress should pass a new CR that will run into the first quarter of 2022. “When they get serious, I'm sure we'll get serious,” Shelby said of his Democratic counterparts. "We’re not gonna blink."
Also this week, House Ways and Means subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on the impact of Chinese trade practices. The hearing comes as the Biden administration is recruiting Japan, the United Kingdom, European Union and other allies to challenge Chinese trade practices.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who is taking a lead role in gathering allies, spent several days this month in Asia. The trip started in Tokyo and ended with the first U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum since 2017.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Nov. 29
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Nov. 30
Agricultural Retailers Association annual conference and expo, San Antonio.
Tri-State Grain Growers annual convention, Spokane, Wash. Agri-Pulse President Sara Wyant is featured speaker.
Wednesday, Dec. 1
10:15 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meeting to consider the nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission. The committee also will hold a hearing on the nomination of Gigi B. Sohn to be a FCC member, 253 Russell.
11 a.m. - Agri-Pulse webinar, AgriTalks Brazil/USA – Green technologies in agribusiness for a sustainable future.
Thursday, Dec. 2
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on the impact of Chinese trade practices.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on various bills involving recreation on federal lands, 366 Dirksen.
Friday, Dec. 3
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com