Just shy of seven weeks ago, I penned an article, “A bad lesson in federal spending” which detailed the process used to advance the anticipated $3.5 trillion for the human infrastructure bill. The House Agriculture Committee did not even have all the details of its bill when it advanced it out of committee, and the Senate Agriculture Committee didn’t even hold a markup.
Fast forward to today, and we’ve got the price tag at least down to $1.75 trillion for the human infrastructure, but we still don’t know all of the details.
And all those outstanding issues I identified in September remain today, including again the impeding debt ceiling limit and annual appropriations expiring Dec. 3 and programs and workers paid through the Highway Trust Fund face an Oct. 31 deadline. As Congress continues to try to find that perfect balance of support for getting it advanced, it continues to keep kicking the can.
Republican Leader of the House Agriculture Committee Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., testified in front of the House Rules Committee Thursday evening against H.R. 5376, the Democrats’ reconciliation bill.
During the markup on September 10, the Republicans offered a motion to postpone until September 20 so its members could have their say in all the spending that would be within the committee’s jurisdiction. Their request was voted down.
“It is now October 28. And here we are again in a hurry, governed by yet another artificial deadline. We have had this language for 1 hour. And I can tell you that it is significantly different from what my Committee sent to the Budget Committee in September,” Thompson says.
Thompson adds he believes the House Budget Committee as well as the House Agriculture Committee have become pawns in the process.
“Now we must all sit idly by as the provisions in our committee’s jurisdiction are crafted behind closed doors by individuals who could not care less about the many crises impacting rural America,” he adds.
While representing the majority during the Rules Committee markup, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., says that farm bill conservation programs are oversubscribed, and the money provided in the framework will go to farms. “Producers who want to help sequester carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be able to carry out those practices with the funding provided in this bill,” he says.
Included in the package is $27.15 billion designated for a suite of working lands conservation programs, including $4 billion for the Conservation Stewardship Program, $9 billion for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and $7.5 billion for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Timeline still unknown
The process on whether the reconciliation and infrastructure bill move in tandem continues to remain unsolved. Many had hoped the $1.2 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which advanced in the Senate by a vote of 69-30, could cross the finish line and let the chips fall where they may on the reconciliation human infrastructure component. However, the House Progressive Caucus is not letting up on their desire to see reconciliation passed before infrastructure.
Dustin Sherer, congressional director of relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the framework remains unclear still on many of the details and further negotiations are likely to continue. Many of the dreaded tax provisions for farmers do not look to be in this bill, but Sherer adds that is not guaranteed either.
Sherer says moderate Senate members – Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have not offered their wholehearted support following the framework’s release Thursday. “I don’t see the dynamic has fully shifted,” Sherer warns. “Every time you move closer to one chambers’ desires, you move away from the other,” he says of the back and forth of pleasing the House and Senate members within the Democratic Party.
Another wild card in this timeline is the Virginia gubernatorial race on Nov. 2. President Biden won Virginia by 10 percentage points, and now the race is neck and neck. With the Democrats continuing to claim a voter mandate in the need to advance their priorities within the Build Back Better reconciliation plan, Sherer says the outcome of that Virginia race may or may not put fuel on the fire to try to get something done before more elections in 2022, or it may overall dampen Democrats’ advancement strategy in an effort to salvage election losses next year.
Sherer says he’s fairly confident the bipartisan infrastructure bill will end up passing before the end of the year. However, because of the ongoing challenges on the reconciliation bill, he’s less sure it’s fate.
As the end of the year approaches, congressional members get tired and burned out, and want to get things done. Sherer says that may be when we finally get action, or at least start pointing fingers of blame.