Washington Insider-- Thursday

House Passes Stop Gap Funding Bill

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

Senators Call for Removal of Trade Program's Rice Tariff Barriers

A group of U.S. senators are calling on the Trump administration to reform the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), the largest and oldest trade preference program. The lawmakers want the reforms to level the playing field for American rice producers.

GSP provides duty-free treatment to goods from developing countries to promote economic growth in those nations. In recent years, highly subsidized rice growing competitors have taken advantage of this program to increase rice exports to the U.S. at the expense of American producers, rice proponents note.

In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer — authored by Sen, John Boozman, R-Ark., and others — the members shared their support for the USA Rice Federation's petition to remove all rice tariff lines from the list of commodities eligible for duty-free import under GSP.

Reuters: USDA Making COVID Aid Payments To Tobacco Farmers From New Account

USDA will be making payments to tobacco farmers under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) effort via a new account established under the office of the secretary, according to a report from Reuters.

The payments of up to $100 million to tobacco farmers will not come from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funding but from this new account established in the wake of how Congress divvied up money to USDA in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

A change in law in 2004 prevented CCC funds from being used to make payments to tobacco farmers, and USDA told the news service it is tracking the money.

The CARES Act provided $9.5 billion in relief funding for agriculture, allocating those funds to the office of the agriculture secretary.

Washington Insider: House Passes Stop Gap Funding Bill

The House passed a stopgap funding measure “through Dec. 11” on Wednesday night, overcoming a fight over farm and nutrition aid and preparing for a frantic lame duck session at the end of the year. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its “chances of passage are good” after Republicans got the farm aid they demanded.

The stopgap would provide $21 billion spending authority by accelerating the reimbursement of USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). It also would provide almost $8 billion in funds to feed children who normally receive school lunches — an increase from the $2 billion Democrats had earlier considered.

Lawmakers from agriculture-heavy states, including some centrist Democrats, pushed for the farm aid measure after President Donald Trump last week announced $13 billion in “farm aid” through the Commodity Credit Corporation.

On Monday, Democrats had released a version of the measure that did not contain the farm bailout provision, enraging Republicans and putting passage of the bill in doubt — and thus raising the chances of a government shutdown. It also became apparent that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not have the votes to pass it.

Democrats have complained that Trump administration farm relief has favored southern states such as Georgia — a key swing state and home of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue — and larger producers.

“The Trump Administration has proven they cannot be trusted to distribute payments fairly,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. She added that the Agriculture Department doesn't need the authority to meet farm bill obligations. But other Democrats, including endangered House incumbents in states like Iowa and Minnesota, pressed for the farm aid, the Washington Post reported.

The stopgap funding bill also comes as negotiations on a huge COVID-19 relief bill remain stalled and as the Capitol has been thrust into an unprecedented political drama with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, which has launched an intense election-season Senate confirmation fight.

The spending proposal, called a continuing resolution, or CR, in Washington-speak, would keep every federal agency running at current funding levels through Dec. 11, which will keep the government afloat past the election and possibly reshuffle Washington's balance of power.

Appropriators have committed to trying to pass an omnibus spending measure by Dec. 11, Speaker Pelosi said on Wednesday. Bloomberg called that “an ambitious goal in less than three months, indicating lawmakers could assemble a few large packages, if not a single 12-bill omnibus measure.” The House passed 10 of its 12 bills, but Senate appropriators have not marked up or release any appropriation bills.

“We'll proceed with what we have accomplished on the floor of the House, they'll post what their bills might be, our appropriators will go to conference,” Pelosi said, adding that appropriators have a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to try to have an omnibus “finished by Dec. 11.”

The continuing resolution released and passed yesterday doesn't follow an earlier agreement to leave coronavirus measures out of the stopgap funding bill — but Democrats got a substantial amount of food aid funds in return, Pelosi said in the interview yesterday. “The definition of a clean CR on the Republican side is, 'What we want should go in there, what you want shouldn't,'” she argued.

In a side note, Bloomberg noted that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is vowing to bring back earmarks, with new transparency requirements, if she's chosen as the next House Appropriations chairwoman, according to a plan she released for the 117th Congress.

She is up against Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, among Democrats in the race to succeed retiring Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. DeLauro and Kaptur both have more seniority but Wasserman Schultz has sought to garner support through specific proposals to change how the panel operates — including a July plan to create an advisory panel on inequity in federal spending.

Under Wasserman Schultz's proposal, in addition to reviving earmarks, the full committee would “hold hearings outside of appropriations season,” in order to expand its overall level of work; start an advisory committee with members from key caucuses; hold freshman orientation and “Appropriations 101” workshops; reestablish the House Appropriations Select Intelligence Oversight Panel; and expand the chairwoman's member services team.

Wasserman Shultz proposed making the earmark process more transparent than it was before it was banned by House Republicans in 2011. Those changes include prohibiting earmarked funds from going to for-profit businesses, posting earmarks publicly, creating an online database of earmarks, and calling for an annual earmark audit by the Government Accountability Office.

So, we will see. Almost everything is toxic these days, and the fog of battle is unusually dense, observers say. However, the battles are increasingly important and should be watched closely by producers as the process intensifies, Washington Insider believes.

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