Senate Democrats don’t have a vote to spare this week as they try to pass their historic climate package, including more than $20 billion aimed at helping farmers adopt practices that reduce greenhouse emissions.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., holds the crucial 50th vote needed to pass the bill that Democrats are trying to pass through the budget reconciliation process, and she has yet to commit to support it. Vice President Kamala Harris would provide the deciding vote, assuming Sinema is on board.
No Republican is expected to vote for it.
COVID is another potential wildcard for Senate Democrats. Numerous lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol have tested positive in recent weeks, but the Senate, unlike the House, doesn't allow remote voting.
The package would still need to pass the House. House members are officially starting their August recess this week but are expected to return next week to consider the legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed confidence that it would have the necessary House votes. “When they send it to us, we’ll pass it,” Pelosi told reporters.
Dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, the bill would provide $369 billion in climate-related funding, plus another $64 billion for extending Affordable Care Act subsides for three years.
The bill would mandate $40 billion in spending that would be under the control of the Agriculture Department, including funding for forestry, rural electric co-ops, biofuel infrastructure as well as $19.9 billion for four conservation programs, $1 billion for conservation technical assistance and $300 million for USDA to measure the impact of farming practices on carbon emissions.
The conservation funding “will support farmers and ranchers in continuing to expand their role in fighting climate change while also supporting the resilience of their operations. The addition of biofuels infrastructure funding is also a welcome addition and one that will support farmers and consumers across the country,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union.
But the American Farm Bureau Federation, whose policy positions align more closely with Republicans, isn't backing the bill. The bill would largely be paid for through a new 15% minimum tax on corporations and a provision authorizing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs. About $300 billion in revenue would be applied to the federal budget deficit.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall said his group "appreciates that lawmakers recognize the role agriculture can play in addressing climate change issues in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022."
But he said the group "has serious concerns about the proposed increase in taxes on American businesses at a time when the country is entering a recession. We strongly encourage lawmakers to focus on policy that directly addresses record-high input costs, spurs economic growth, and addresses inflation that is crushing the pocketbooks of America’s families.”
The climate-related funding addresses a priority for many farm and conservation groups heading into consideration of a new farm bill next year.
But the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, said that funding farm bill programs through the partisan budget reconciliation process would set a bad precedent for rewriting ag policy between farm bills. “It’s $40 billion worth of spending and I think the process is really terrible,” he said.
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An advocacy group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, welcomed the conservation funding but faulted the bill for putting funding into biofuels and biomass-based power. Those provisions "work at cross purposes with conservation and climate goals. Increased spending on bioenergy will do more harm than good for the climate, environment, and taxpayers," said the organization.
The bill includes a new tax credit for low-carbon biofuels that would start in 2025. As a bridge to that credit, the bill would extend the existing $1-a-gallon tax credit for biomass-based diesel until 2024 and create a temporary new tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel.
Although Republicans can’t stop the bill as long as Democrats stick together, they’ll be able to force votes on a series of amendments that could be uncomfortable politically for Democrats.
Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy was discharged Friday from a rehabilitation facility where he had been recovering from hip surgery. His office said he would be in the Senate for the reconciliation votes.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Aug. 1
International Sweetener Symposium, Vail, Colo.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Aug. 2
10 a.m. - Senate Small Business Committee hearing on the Small Business Administration's COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, 428A Russell.
Wednesday, Aug. 3
10 a.m. - American Enterprise Institute forum on the Congressional Budget Office's long-term forecast, 1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Thursday, Aug. 4
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
Friday, Aug. 5
UN Food and Agriculture Organization releases monthly food price index.
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