While the country waits for the U.S. Senate to break a voting logjam on a coronavirus stimulus bill, the legislation has a few key provisions for USDA.
For agriculture, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced that he had secured provisions in the bill to replenish $30 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funding authority for USDA.
The bill would also increase the CCC borrowing authority an additional $20 billion for USDA to respond to COVID-19 and enable USDA to utilize CCC funds to assist livestock producers.
Three cattle organizations and several senators said last week that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue should aid cattle producers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Cattlemen's Association, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and R-CALF USA -- three groups that often disagree -- all requested Congress ensure USDA can provide aid to livestock producers.
But there were broader concerns about the bill’s assistance for local governments, including rural counties.
The National Association of Counties said late Sunday, “Among the major sticking points is the issue of potential general financial support for states and local governments, including those impacted by both increased costs for public health, public safety and overall safety net response efforts as well as those facing significant declines in revenue.”
“While preliminary summaries released by Senate Republicans outlined important, substantial appropriations for many tailored federal programs that are either managed by or assist state and local governments (including counties), the ‘leaked’ versions of the Senate GOP package appear silent on the issue of broader financial support and paid/sick leave provisions for local governments.
“While individual counties may opt against pursuing any additional federal aid for COVID-19, the National Association of Counties is fighting to ensure that America's county governments, parishes and boroughs are eligible for federal COVID-19 emergency aid in the third supplemental package.”
The bill on Sunday stalled on a 47-47 vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that unless an agreement is reached, the Senate will vote again today at 9:45 a.m. on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 748 (Legislative Vehicle for the CARES Act — Coronavirus Phase III).
“Further complicating matters, there are now five GOP senators in self-quarantine or isolation — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has tested positive for coronavirus, as well as Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney of Utah, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Rick Scott of Florida,” CNN reported.
“That means that the 53-47 GOP majority is now reduced to 48-47,” CNN continued.
“A stimulus bill will need 60 votes to pass in the Senate, meaning it will have to have substantial bipartisan support to get to 60, but the diminishing vote strength of the majority is on the minds of Republicans negotiating with Democrats to approve this must-pass bill.”
Democrats and Republicans were at odds over what should happen.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said late Sunday, “We are working night and day to come to an agreement on the most effective way to address the overwhelming and immediate needs in this crisis.”
“While the need is urgent, we have to get this right because too much is at stake,” Stabenow said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that this is a public health crisis first. Our most urgent priority must be to address the need for an immediate infusion of resources to fully support our hospitals and brave health care providers.
“In addition, any economic package must put the needs of Michigan families, our workers, and small businesses first. I intend to stand strong in these negotiations on their behalf.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, said in a news release, “It’s simple: President Trump and Mitch McConnell are trying to put corporate bailouts ahead of families. And it's simply wrong.”
“Here’s what’s happening,” Biden said. “The White House and the Senate Republicans have proposed a $500 billion slush fund for corporations, with almost no conditions. Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary [Steve Mnuchin] would decide which big businesses get how much, and he can give out billions with virtually no strings attached.
“The Trump administration could even allow companies to use taxpayers’ money for stock buybacks and executive pay packages, and they don’t have to tell Americans where the money is going for months.
“This is par for the course for this president. We have just watched too many CEOs spend the last few years squandering the massive Trump corporate tax cuts on buying back their own stock and increasing their own compensation, rather than investing in their workers or making their businesses more sustainable. No more blank checks to corporations. Any lifelines to big companies should ensure the aid lifts up workers, instead of enriching CEOs or shareholders. If these companies are taking money from taxpayers, they must make an enforceable commitment that they will keep workers on payroll.
“We can’t let Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell hold small businesses, workers, and communities hostage until they get their no-strings corporate bailout,” Biden said.
“McConnell should immediately allow a bipartisan vote on aggressive measures to help small businesses, workers, and communities first, so the relief they need can get moving.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is also a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “After days of bipartisan around-the-clock negotiations to deliver immediate financial aid to Americans, businesses and health care professionals, the Senate Democrats walked away.”
“They walked away from direct recovery payments for American families struggling to make ends meet,” Grassley said. “They walked away from beefed up unemployment insurance to supplement lost incomes for workers. They walked away from billions to strained health care industry and increased liquidity to help businesses stay afloat. All this, despite productive bipartisan discussions.
“We don’t have time for politics and posturing. The unemployment rolls are growing along with anxiety across the country. The Democrats’ filibuster today delays critical relief that we all agree is needed. This bill won’t be the last action we take to battle coronavirus. For the good of our nation, we need to move forward. Delay is not an option.”
The White House announced late Sunday that the Coronavirus Task Force briefing Monday will not take place until 5:30 p.m.
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport
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