Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Senators Struggle Over Spending as Shutdown Looms

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

House Ag Panel Democrats Come Out Against Plan to Impact Farmer Aid

The lack of a provision to address funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) in a proposed continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through November 21 has raised opposition from House Ag Committee Democratic leaders.

The lack of the provision threatens to hold up trade aid payments to farmers.

Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities; Jim Costa, D-Calif., Chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture; and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Chairman of House Agriculture Committee are leading efforts to secure the inclusion of language in the CR which would allow USDA to move forward with the recently announced Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments.

“As Members of Congress who represent agricultural communities, we repeatedly hear from farmers in our districts whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the ongoing trade wars. Although we mutually have concerns with President Trump’s approach to trade negotiations, we refuse to engage in the same tactics that punish our constituents and harm our communities that rely on agriculture. The upcoming CR should include the anomaly requested by USDA that would allow them to access the $30 billion in spending of the Commodity Credit Corporation prior to October 1st to ensure that MFP and farm bill payments continue to go out. We cannot and will not allow our farmers to be used as political pawns.”

US Chamber of Commerce Says US/China meeting Friday

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says U.S. deputy-level officials will meet with their Chinese counterparts on Friday. The next meeting of top-level officials will likely occur either later this month or early October.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke to state and local business groups Monday in Washington, after which U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue said while “there’s much more work” to be done on a trade deal with China he’s optimistic about passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement by the end of the year.

Donohue said while Lighthizer indicated there’s some movement on China buying U.S. farm products and other issues, getting a complete deal will be “an extraordinary challenge.”

Washington Insider: Senators Struggle Over Spending as Shutdown Looms

As if there weren’t enough to worry about amid concerns over the economy and ongoing trade clashes, there is a report from The Hill this week that government funding talks in the Senate are off to “a rough start.” The report notes that there are only 10 working days to go until the shutdown deadline.

This is an important problem because it “throws into question if senators will be able to get any of the fiscal 2020 bills through the chamber this month, a setback for Republicans who wanted to clear a major package before October.”

Of course, there are still optimists. For example, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he still wants to bring bills to the Senate floor for a vote but warned that lawmakers need to “negotiate the terrain.”

“We’ve been down that road before,” he said when asked how the funding talks get unstuck. “There’s got to be a resolution to it.”

However, the darker view is that the partisan breakdown has left lawmakers visibly flummoxed about how to resolve the impasse, The Hill says.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned against getting “bogged down in too many foxholes… I’m praying for Chairman Shelby and ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to make the curtains part here so we can figure a way to move forward,” said McConnell, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee.

But The Hill thinks that a quick resolution is “nowhere in sight” with senators at a stalemate over major provisions, including the top-line spending figures for each of the bills, known as 302(b)s.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its top-line figures, a mammoth fiscal 2020 defense bill and an energy and water funding bill, on Thursday. But neither the 302(b)s nor the defense bill currently have the votes to pass the Senate where they would need the support of at least seven Democrats if every Republican voted for them.

Democrats are taking issue with the top-line figures, which break down how much money each bill will get, because they believe Republicans are padding them with extra money that could be shifted to homeland security. And they balked at supporting the Pentagon spending bill after Republicans rejected an amendment that would have prevented the President from shifting funds from the bill toward the border wall without congressional sign off.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate minority whip and top Democrat on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, warned that the spending bill for the Pentagon is stuck until they resolve the fight over top-line spending figures.

Republicans could bring the bills to the floor anyway just to make Democrats vote in what would amount to a messaging fight as they did in 2016. Democrats are making it clear they won’t provide Republicans with their votes unless they sit down and renegotiate the spending legislation.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., when asked if any spending bills could pass on the floor, responded, “Absolutely not.” “You had every member of the Democratic caucus voting 'no'” in committee, he said. “I think we've got to renegotiate the allocations” to move forward.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that no one wants to resort to a continuing resolution or another government shutdown. “But my Republican colleagues must know that what happens in the next few days and weeks will determine whether we can proceed with a bipartisan appropriations process this fall or not,” he said.

There’s more. With the full-year funding bills stuck in limbo, Congress will need to pass a short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, by the end of the month. The House is expected to vote on a bill this week to fund the government until Nov. 21.

In addition, major funding fights await both the bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and funding for the State Department and the Appropriations Committee still has to take up a funding bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction, which certainly will be controversial because Republicans are expected to try to replace the $3.6 billion the administration redirected to the border wall.

And funding for the Department of Homeland Security is considered so controversial that Republican senators say they aren’t sure that they will even bring the bill up.

Shelby characterized the spending talks as in “round one.” But asked if he could move DHS funding in his committee, Shelby demurred. “That’s challenging,” he said, before throwing his arms up as he got in an elevator. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to do something.”

So, we will see. These last minute spending fights have become much more common in recent years and are very, very hard to control even when there is fairly broad underlying agreement. They are important and should be watched closely by producers as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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