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Coronavirus

House stopgap bill doesn't include farm aid

TAGS: Coronavirus
Dark storm clouds over the U.S. Capitol building Getty Images/Mark Wilson
Democrats want to negotiate farm aid as part of separate stimulus negotiations.

By Erik Wasson and Jack Fitzpatrick

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. House Democrats released a stopgap government funding bill Monday without support from the White House or Senate Republicans, raising the risk of a federal shutdown at the end of the month.

The bill would extend current levels of spending for agencies past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year through Dec. 11. But it doesn’t include $30 billion for farm aid that the White House had sought, which Democrats want to negotiate as part of separate stimulus negotiations, drawing complaints from Republicans.

The stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, is set to get a vote in the House on Tuesday, according to a Democratic aide, and then will be sent to the Senate, where Republicans have the majority. Besides the farm-aid money, other aspects of the legislation had been agreed on in negotiations among Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and the White House.

Both parties indicated they wanted to avoid a government shutdown just weeks before the election.

“We do prefer additional farm aid in the CR. Most of all we want a clean CR, keep the government open,” Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser, told reporters Monday.

Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week” program Sunday that “none of us has any interest in shutting down government.”

Senate Republicans from farm states pushed for the $30 billion to replenish funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corp., a government-owned entity that aims to stabilize farm income. Trump announced $13 billion in new aid to farmers, drawing from the CCC, at a rally in Wisconsin on Thursday, and the corporation had already projected an increase in demand for agriculture-risk coverage, price-loss coverage and marketing-assistance loans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a tweet Monday that the House bill “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”

House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America.

— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) September 21, 2020
 

Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who is in a tough re-election battle, called on her colleagues to fight for the CCC funding.

“This is no time for political games. I’m calling on all of my farm-state colleagues in the House and the Senate -- Republicans and Democrats -- to stand with farmers and demand this support be included in the upcoming government funding bill,” she said in a statement after the bill was released.

Both McConnell and Ernst stopped short of saying the bill should be blocked without the aid for farmers.

Democrats floated the possibility of providing the farm funds in exchange for $2 billion in child-nutrition money on Friday, but that was never finalized before Pelosi called Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to cancel the trade-off, according to aides. The House bill left out the child-nutrition money for a program that runs out at the end of the month.

A senior Democratic aide argued that the CCC money was being used by Trump for political aims as a benefit to rural areas that are crucial to his re-election chances. Democrats included $30 billion in direct Covid-19 farm aid in their stalled $3.4 trillion May stimulus bill.

A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment.

The bill extends highway funding and the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides home insurance to millions of Americans, for one year. It also sustains a host of health programs until Dec. 11 while averting a $50 increase in Medicare Part B premiums for seniors.

While White House requests for money for the Space Force were denied, the Pentagon was given the authority and apportioned funding to buy up to two new nuclear submarines in fiscal year 2021. In addition, the stopgap measure would extend authority for the Pentagon to reimburse defense contractors for expenses incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The troubled U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is granted the power to charge new fees to avoid furloughs that threatened to delay citizenship for applicants beyond the coming election.

Without the CCC money, the Senate could try to block and amend the House stopgap, leading to a confrontation as the deadline looms. A showdown over border-wall funding led to a 35-day shutdown of the U.S. government in late 2018 and early 2019.

Pelosi and Mnuchin had agreed earlier this month to keep talks on a coronavirus relief package separate from the funding bill. Those stimulus talks have stalled since early August, with the two sides about $1 trillion apart in their offers.

--With assistance from Justin Sink and Saleha Mohsin.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Farm Bureau statement

The American Farm Bureau Federation issued this statement.

“We’re disappointed that Congress has not reached an agreement on replenishing the Commodity Credit Corporation," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. "For years, both parties have come together to ensure the CCC provides a safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers. A fully funded CCC is as important as ever as farmers are suffering through a pandemic, trade imbalances and severe weather.

“The impact of the CCC is far reaching. Without immediate CCC replenishment, programs laid out in the farm bill, including conservation and rural development, as well as supplemental funding for nutrition programs, are all at risk. We strongly encourage members of Congress to put their differences aside in order to address the needs of rural America.”

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