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Senate in driver's seat on big spending

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GOVERNMENT SPENDING: President Biden unveiled his $6 trillion budget to Congress on May 28 that makes additional investments in climate-smart agriculture spending and rural broadband.
Deal reached on CR extension until February 18 as Senate decides on whether to act on Build Back Better Act advanced by the House.

The House passed the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19, but they weren’t able to celebrate a victory over their Thanksgiving meal. And this could be dragging all the way until Christmas. The Senate will now have to take up the bill, where it’s expected Senate Democrats are expected to significantly modify the legislation in order to win the support of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the main Democratic holdout.

The clock is ticking, and Congress continues to hold out on doing their job of passing annual appropriations bill. Ahead of the December 3 deadline on the expiration of the continuing resolution passed earlier this fall, the latest CR now pushes that deadline back to February 18, 2022.

In a Statement of Administration policy, the administration strongly urged swift passage of H.R. 6119, the Further Extending Government Funding Act.  H.R. 6119 would keep the Federal Government open and provide more time for the Congress to reach a bipartisan agreement on full-year appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022. 

As so much focus has been allocated in recent months over the bipartisan infrastructure deal and the budget reconciliation package (now called Build Back Better), only nine of the 12 appropriations bills have passed in the House, and only three in the Senate.  

“The Administration urges the Congress to use the coming weeks to engage in robust bipartisan negotiations to reach agreement on appropriations and avoid the devastating effects of a full-year continuing resolution,” the SAP says.  “Full-year appropriations bills are critical for a wide range of bipartisan priorities—from defense readiness and modernization, to research and development, to veteran benefits programs.”

“The Congress has a long history of reaching bipartisan appropriations agreements that benefit the American people.  Over the coming weeks, lawmakers have an opportunity and obligation to do so again,” the SAP adds.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says she hopes Congress can pass an omnibus spending bill prior to the next deadline of February 18. She says the “obstacle to moving forward with most of what we want to do lies in the Senate with Mitch McConnell,” she notes of the Senate minority leader. “We’ve been trying to come together to do an omnibus bill, but Republicans won’t come to the table to discuss it.”

Pelosi promises, “We will get it done. And we will get it done in a timely fashion.”

BBB has some ag wins, but at what cost?

Following the House’s BBB vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says, “As soon as the necessary technical and procedural work with the Senate Parliamentarian has been completed, the Senate will take up this legislation. We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk and deliver help for middle-class families.” 

Schumer later notes he aims to pass the legislation by Christmas. If it clears the Senate, the House will need to approve any changes in the final bill before it heads to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Meanwhile, McConnell says the best Christmas gift for America is to not pass the Build Back Better bill.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the agriculture-related programs in the bill would increase federal spending by $76.9 billion between 2022 and 2031. It’s unlikely agricultural provisions will take much of a hit if and when the Senate brings it up.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack praised the historic investments included in the bill, including $25/acre payments for cover crops as well as $600 million to help better understand the impact of climate actions through a carbon sequestration quantification program and a focus on pilot projects that can assist in understanding more the benefits that come from climate smart actions.

A joint statement from Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board, National Corn Growers, National Farmers Union and Renewable Fuels Association, welcomed the nearly $1 billion in funding to provide grants to retail fuel stations and fuel terminal operators to upgrade refueling infrastructure and to upgrade distribution systems.

“The BBB Act provides further voluntary incentives like cover crops, nutrient management, buffers and incentives for locally-led conservation efforts that will help reduce the carbon intensity of agriculture even further, helping biofuel producers provide an even lower carbon liquid fuel at a time when demand for low carbon fuels is rising,” they state. “As biofuel producers capture the value of low carbon farming practices, farmers would also have the opportunity to benefit in the form of premium prices for their commodities. These further reductions are important to ensure a long-term future for biofuels as policymakers and the public look to lower the carbon intensity of transportation."

The House version does provide undocumented farmworkers who have been in the country for over 10 years to stay and work lawfully without the fear of deportation. But the Senate may have to scrub those provisions to allow for its inclusion in the budget reconciliation.

Vilsack says those are very important provisions which attempt to address, although not in a fully comprehensive way, some of the challenges facing unauthorized farmworkers today. “It is disappointing to American agriculture if we aren’t able to get those proposals through,” he says of the immigration provisions.

He also called on Congress to work in a bipartisan way to look at ways to get the immigration system fixed, at least as it relates to agriculture, and proceed with the independent legislation – the Farm Workforce Modernization Act – that advanced in the House earlier this year. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t do this.”

But once the calendar flips to 2022, it’s unlikely Congress will have the appetite to take any bold legislative actions in a mid-term election year.



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