Details on Closed Government

Some USDA Operations Remain Open as Lawmakers Seek a Path Forward

Congress will convene again on Monday to try to find a way around the latest budget impasse that shut down parts of the federal government over the weekend.

WASHINGTON, D.C., (DTN) -- Like the rest of the federal government, most of the Agriculture Department will be closed Monday, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday outlined a wide range of essential services that will operate.

Through his Twitter account @secretarysonny, Perdue also sent out a series of tweets on each of the services that will remain open.

USDA issued both a news release summary and detailed plans that had been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Perdue's statements were couched in the terms of what would happen if a continuing resolution were not passed.

"USDA is committed to safeguarding life and property through the critical services we provide -- and should the government shut down, we will continue to do just that," Perdue said. "I am proud of each USDA employee for everything they do to benefit the farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers who depend on our services. It is their mission each day to fulfill our USDA motto, 'Do right and feed everyone.'"

Some of the biggest problems for farmers would be finishing up or closing a loan tied to direct USDA funding or a loan guarantee. Loans would start to get processed again once funding is established, but farm programs and loan activities would be put on hold.

The same goes for loans under agencies such as USDA Rural Development. Borrowers would not be able to secure loans or make payments. "The unavailability of servicing actions not deemed excepted could have a negative impact on the financial stability of customers and mortgage lenders' financial operations.

The Senate is next scheduled to vote at noon Monday on a bill to reopen the government, with Senate Democrats in states that voted for Hillary Clinton including several on the Senate Agriculture Committee under attack from Republicans, The Washington Post reported.

Both houses of Congress were in session at points this weekend, but Senate efforts to reach a compromise bill were still in progress late Sunday evening.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said late Sunday on the floor of the chamber that he will next attempt to bring up a cloture vote and a funding bill at noon Monday.

The measure is technically a roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to concur in the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R.195 (The Continuing Resolution Act), with further amendment.

McConnell announced the noon vote after he proposed holding a vote at 10 p.m. Sunday and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., objected to that schedule, saying that senators working on a compromise measure had not yet achieved "a path forward that would be acceptable to both sides."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has announced that the House would accept a continuing resolution that extends only until February 8. The House-passed CR extends until Feb. 16, but Democrats are putting pressure on the Republicans to deal with issues such as a resolution of the undocumented youth known as "Dreamers" who are protected from deportation under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The House is scheduled to go into session at noon Monday.

McConnell called the current situation "a Democrat filibuster," although several Republican senators also refused to support the House CR last week.

But in what appeared to be a movement toward compromise, he said that "when it comes to an end, the serious bipartisan negotiations that have been going on for months now to resolve our unfinished business, military spending, disaster relief, health care, immigration and border security will continue."

McConnell added if those issues are not resolved by Feb. 8, when the next CR is expected to expire and "assuming that the government remains open, it would be my intention to proceed to legislation that would address DACA, border security and related issues. It is also my intention to take up legislation regarding increased defense spending disaster relief and other important matters."

McConnell thanked Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine for "working across the aisle to help resolve the impasse we find ourselves in." Those senators have been working in Collins's office with Democratic senators including several from states that voted for Hillary Clinton and are up for election this year.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Republicans had sent out email blasts in the states of the Democratic senators up for election, saying that because the House bill would reauthorize the children's health program known as CHIP, the Democrats in resistance were putting undocumented immigrants ahead of American children.

The targets of the attack included Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jon Tester of Montana and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Other senators who were subject to the attacks included Bill Nelson of Florida and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Democrats, who knew the attacks were coming, have responded with videos and online ads that point to President Donald Trump's 2013 and 2017 quotes about how a shutdown might be good for Republicans, the Post said.

Farm groups remained silent on the funding and DACA dispute, but the National WIC Association and the United Farm Workers issued statements.

Even though Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said that the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will continue to operate, the National WIC Association noted that if the shutdown were to last for weeks, funding for WIC, an appropriated program, would run out.

Among the USDA agencies and activities that Perdue said will continue:

- The Food Safety and Inspection Service will inspect meat, poultry, processed eggs.

- The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will respond in the case of an animal or plant disease outbreak.

- The Food and Nutrition Service will maintain the core programs of the nutrition safety net, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child Nutrition Programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Disaster feeding operations under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and the Stafford Act will remain available based on the exception to fund functions critical to health and safety; and food already purchased for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), USDA foods for Child Nutrition Programs, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), will continue to be delivered to program operators.

- The Foreign Agricultural Service and the Office of Chief Economist will help with the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations in Montreal.

- The U.S. Forest Service will fight fires and engage in fire suppression.

- The Agricultural Marketing Service will continue its Market News information gathering function.

After coming in to secure their work areas, 10,700 or so of Farm Service Agency employees will be furloughed while roughly 182 would remain on staff in various positions.

At the Food Safety and Inspection Service, inspection will continue for meat, poultry and eggs.

The U.S. Forest Service has 37,345 employees of which about 23,590 employees will face furlough.

At the Agricultural Marketing Service, the National Organic Program and marketing agreement and orders such as the checkoffs, would be among those programs stopped.

USDA has a website to inform employees of USDA's operating status:

https://www.dm.usda.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(BAS)