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A bad lesson in federal spending

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CONGRESS' SPENDING SPREE: Senate approves $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal and party line vote advances the $3.5 trillion framework for budget reconciliation.
House Ag advances $3.5 trillion ag portion of spending package without even knowing all the details.

Congress is often criticized about having pages upon pages of legislative text without ample time to even read that text. The House Agriculture Committee took that one step further in writing its guidebook for poor government last week with the markup of $96 billion in new spending that did not even have the final details of a promised $28 billion in conservation spending. In action early Monday morning, the committee advanced on a straight party line vote 27-24 favorably of their portion of the reconciliation package still without knowing if one dime would go to production agriculture.

Less than 24 hours before the House began its markup at 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the 52 pages of legislative text offered the first glimpse into how democrats want to spend taxpayer money in what may be the last opportunity to advance many of their pet projects.

Yet, as Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., pointed out at the end, without knowing how funds will be spent for conservation, he “could not find where production agriculture gets one penny.” How is this the way we should be helping farmers?

For months we’ve been talking about the Biden administration and Democrat-controlled Congress’ desire to pass a reconciliation package with their narrow margins. So why does Congress have to continue to wait until the last minute to provide those details, or in this case, move ahead without even all the details?

As House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn “GT” Thompson states in his opening comments of the markup, he says the topline number of $3.5 trillion “will almost certainly plummet” which will require significant cuts and changes to the already incomplete proposals advanced by a party-line vote out of committee.  

Related: House Ag Committee delays vote on $94B in new ag spending

“Whether one supports the broader reconciliation package or not, this Committee has been given an opportunity to move its priorities forward,” Thompson says. “It’s disappointing the few bipartisan and substantive issues we’ve worked to advance this Congress—broadband and WHIP +—aren’t in the bill before us today.”

Yet, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., called it a “poison pill.”

And attempts to include the provisions through Republican amendments were also voted down.

Consistently throughout the markup, members on both sides of the aisle voiced concerns that the final package could be paid for through tax changes impacting farmers. But an amendment proposed by Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., to provide a “sense of the committee” in stating the members’ opposition to tax increases on farmers, ranchers and small businesses,” Chairman Scott ruled it was not germane.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., voiced concerns on voting favorably for final passage of the package without knowing the details of the conservation spending, which may not even be known until it goes to the full House floor for a vote. Scott assured him he’ll be working closely with the budget committees very closely “step-by-step” and promised the conservation title details are “in the works.”

In what continues to be a wait and rush mentality on Capitol Hill, the clock is ticking as Congress tries to wrap up final work in the next few weeks. And for those in agriculture, many pieces of the puzzle still unknown.  

Infrastructure: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised moderate Democrats she would hold a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27. Nothing is binding on that promise, but many had wanted to see where priorities were in the reconciliation bill before voting for the bipartisan infrastructure plan.

Reconciliation: The timeline continues to look fuzzy on this as the House and Senate jockey back and forth on how much to spend and how to pay for it as it formulates the final package. Although initial deadlines had pushed for something ahead of Sept. 27, that appears to be a tall order heading into the next two weeks.

Government shutdown: If we didn’t have enough headaches on government spending, this year’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and of course Congress has not passed a single appropriations package. Lawmakers will need to pass something to prevent a government shutdown.

Debt ceiling: Oh, and by the way, with all this government spending, the United States could default on its obligations by October if Congress doesn’t also vote to raise the debt ceiling.

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