The House is set to debate deep cuts in spending for USDA and FDA, even as a partial shutdown looms at the end of this week unless House Republicans and the Democratic-controlled Senate can agree on a stopgap spending bill.  

With a continuing resolution stalled in the House, a small hard-line group of House conservatives forced the GOP leadership to turn to individual appropriations bills this week as an alternative strategy, leaving up in the air what the House will do to avert a shutdown when the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The fiscal 2024 Agriculture spending bill, which would fund USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for the budget year that starts next Sunday, is among four of the annual spending measures the House could debate this week. 

In another bid to shore up support from hard-liners, the GOP leadership brought out a manager’s amendment that would slash the Food for Peace program by $1.2 billion to $533 million and make an across-the-board 14% cut in the Agriculture bill's other funding levels, with the exception of the Women, Infants and Children food assistance program. 

Food for Peace is the flagship international food aid program. The $1.2 billion would more than offset $1.06 billion in food aid purchasing that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently proposed at the request of the Senate Agriculture Committee

Conservative hardliners also are in line to get floor votes on even deeper cuts to some programs. 

The House Rules Committee on Saturday approved a rule for floor debate that would make in order amendments that could cut the Natural Resources Conservation Service budget to its FY16 level and roll back the CFTC budget to its FY18 level, for example.

Other amendments would gut the price support program for sugar, block states from getting waivers from SNAP work requirements, and bar President Joe Biden from carrying out his climate-related orders. 

'Tail trying to wag the dog,' says leadership ally

Heading into the weekend, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., apparently faced two unpalatable choices – Allow the government to shut down, which he suggested could backfire on Republicans, or count on Democrats to help pass a continuing resolution to keep the government temporarily funded into October. Taking the latter step could trigger a challenge to his speakership from the GOP hand-liners led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

McCarthy conceded to reporters Saturday that some GOP members continue holding out against voting for a continuing resolution to keep the government temporarily funded. “There are still a few members that won't vote for funding the government while we finish all the 12 bills,” he said referring to the annual appropriations measures. 

In the Senate, Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have reportedly started working on a continuing resolution that could be sent to the House before the end of the week. “We may now have to go first … given the House,” Schumer told CNN on Friday.

Rep. Frank Lucas, a former House Ag Committee chairman, said the GOP hard-liners’ continued threats to shut down the government have forced fellow Republicans into a losing situation.  

“I agree that the deficit is out of control. I agree we've got to address it. But shocking the system in order to get somebody's attention historically has done more damage than good,” the Oklahoma Republican told Agri-Pulse

Lucas, who has been convalescing at his ranch since being badly injured by a bull in August, is scheduled to return this week, which will give McCarthy a badly needed additional floor vote. 

“The minority has the right and responsibility to be heard, but the majority of the whole legislative body has the right and the responsibility to govern. Now, the tail is trying to wag the dog. That's chaos. At some point we have to move forward,” 

Still, Gaetz and other hard-line conservatives have signaled their continued resistance to passing a stopgap spending bill and support for taking up the FY24 spending measures, which have no chance of passing the Senate as is because of the deep spending cuts and GOP policy provisions they contain. 

“The CR being brought down is nothing short of historic,” tweeted Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., referring to the fact that GOP leaders couldn’t bring up a stopgap spending bill last week. 

Trying instead to considering “single spending bills means Congress can’t ram bloated pork down the throats of Americans. Members must show up to WORK & appropriate instead of steering us off a debt cliff on autopilot,” she said. 

“No more Continuing Resolutions,” tweeted Gaetz, who has repeatedly threatened to file a motion to vacate the speakership. If that happens, McCarthy would likely need some support from Democrats to retain his post, and that could require some concessions. 

Before the additional 14% cut, the FY24 Agriculture bill would provide a total of $25.3 billion for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a reduction of 2% from the amount they got for FY23. Even that funding level depended on a mix of about $8 billion in cuts to pandemic assistance and Inflation Reduction Act allocations to USDA that are dead on arrival in the Senate. 

The House Rules Committee has set amendment deadlines that will tee up the Interior-Environment and Energy-Water appropriations bills for floor action in October. 

Parts of the 2018 farm bill begin expiring after Saturday as well, but lawmakers say Congress is most likely to wait until December before considering an extension. 

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Funding authority for two major trade promotion programs, the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development, lapse Saturday, but USDA can continue funding grantees through the rest of the year, and Vilsack recently notified Congress that he plans to use his Commodity Credit Corporation account to provide $1.4 billion for trade promotion assistance, a move that could further mute the impact of the lapse in MAP and FMD. 

Senate Ag examines foreign land investments

The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a long-expected hearing Wednesday on foreign farmland ownership. 

USDA is responsible for enforcing reporting requirements for foreign farmland purchases, and Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA’s deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation, will testify at the hearing along with Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, and Michigan State University economist David Ortega.

The Ag Committee’s ranking Republican, told Agri-Pulse he expected to put some perspective on the amount of land owned by foreign interests while also building the case for adding the agriculture secretary to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an administrative body that analyzes foreign acquisition of U.S. assets. 

“I think there’s a real case to be made, and this will help us make the case, that USDA needs to be represented on CFIUS,” Boozman said. 

Also this week, dozens of U.S. agriculture companies, state ag officials, and commodity groups promoting American ag products are taking part in a USDA trade mission in Santiago, Chile.

USDA trade mission heads to Chile

USDA Trade Undersecretary Alexis Taylor is leading the trade mission, USDA’s fourth this year; previous trips included Panama, the Netherlands and Japan. Her agenda is filled with meetings with Chilean officials, the Espacio trade show and tours of local facilities that import, process, and sell U.S. ag goods. According to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, Chile is a $1.1 billion market for U.S. agriculture, including more than $100 million worth of wheat, dairy and feed sales in 2022.

The tour begins with marketplace tours Monday, continues with the trade show throughout the week, and wraps up with more tours of Chilean agricultural facilities Thursday and Friday.

Agri-Pulse’s Spencer Chase will be embedded with the U.S. delegation throughout the week and will have reports on the activities of the American participants and the Chilean market for ag exports.

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, Sept. 25

9 a.m. – USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.

4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, Sept. 26

9 a.m. – Farm Foundation webinar, “What to Expect from the 2013 Farm Bill Now.”

Wednesday, Sept. 27

10 a.m. – House Financial Services Committee hearing with Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, 2128 Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing with EPA Administrator Michael Regan, 2318 Rayburn.

Thursday, Sept. 28

8:30 a.m. – USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

Friday, Sept. 29

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Noah Wicks and Spencer Chase contributed to this report.