WASHINGTON, April 26, 2017 - Lawmakers are closing in on a budget deal that is expected to include provisions expanding farm bill spending for cotton and dairy producers. No details are being released but the provisions would likely deem cottonseed eligible for the Price Loss Coverage program and make some improvements in dairy’s Margin Protection Program.
The provisions would both provide cotton and dairy producers with immediate assistance as well as increase the funding stream, or baseline, for both commodities heading into the next farm bill. The new baseline would relieve pressure on the House and Senate Agriculture committees to find money within the farm bill for addressing the financial struggles in the dairy and cotton sectors.
“If it helps us in terms of getting this (budget agreement) done and setting up the farm bill, we’ll take it,” said John Hoeven, the North Dakotan who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, has been pushing for months for the cotton provision. Getting new baselines for cotton and dairy would make it easier to address demands for spending in other areas, such as a vaccine bank for foot and mouth disease. “Both of those issues have to be addressed sooner rather than later,” he said of cotton and dairy.
The ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said there are a number of tweaks to MPP that could help increase participation, including offering higher coverage levels to smaller producers. “I’m not one of those who think that if cotton gets a billion, that we (dairy) should get a billion. I think we should do what’s right,” Peterson said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, both said Tuesday afternoon that they expected to complete a budget agreement within the “next couple of days.” The continuing resolution that’s currently funding the government expires on Friday, so it’s possible lawmakers may have to pass another short-term CR to have enough time to get the budget deal considered in both chambers.
Any deal will have to have the support of Senate Democrats since they can easily block an agreement they don’t like. Leahy, a former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Debbie Stabenow, the panel’s current ranking Democrat, insisted that the dairy fix be included as long as the cotton provision was also going to be part of the deal. “I don’t believe we should address one without the other,” Stabenow said during a briefing with the North American Agricultural Journalists.
The spending bill also could address the May 5 deadline for restaurant chains, supermarket delis and convenience stores to comply with new menu labeling requirements, said Hoeven. He wouldn’t discuss details of the possible provision, but said, “I hope we’ll have something that’s common sense.” Pizza chains and others have been seeking relief from the requirement, which was required by the Affordable Care Act.