Cuba, Tariffs Tie Up Farm Bill

Cloture by Majority Leader Likely Means Farm Bill Vote Today or Friday

The Senate is debating its version of the farm bill on the floor. On Wednesday, some senators opposed using USDA market programs for trade with Cuba. Others attempted to use the farm bill to block President Donald Trump's tariffs. (DTN file graphic)

WASHINGTON, D.C., (DTN) -- The farm bill got complicated on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Debates over funding USDA programs for trade with Cuba, and the idea of restricting President Donald Trump's tariff abilities both ended up slowing down the vote on Senate version of the farm bill.

Politico reported the farm bill could be stalled because Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, oppose using USDA trade promotion programs for marketing U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, a major focus for commodity organizations that have wanted to boost trade to the island.

In a tweet, Rubio stated, "I have decided to block the addition of any new amendments to #FarmBill until they either accept the Cruz amendment striking the use of taxpayer $ for promotions in #Cuba or they accept my amendment that prohibits taxpayer $ being spent at business owned by Cuban military."

Politico reported Rubio later spoke about his beef on the Senate floor. "I'm not going to object to the ability for American farmers to market our products to a market," Rubio said. "In the end, it's food. What I do think we should not allow, however, is the ability to spend taxpayer money in properties and in other places on the island that are owned and controlled by the Cuban military."

In the Agriculture Committee mark up in the farm bill last month, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., got the amendment included in the farm bill. In a press release on Wednesday highlighting her work on the farm bill, Heitkamp stated the amendment would allow the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program "to create, expand, and maintain a strong Cuban export market for U.S. agricultural producers and processors -- at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. This change in USDA policy would provide some needed relief from low American commodity prices by fostering a new, reliable trade relationship, boosting agricultural export revenue, and increasing export volume for American farmers and ranchers," Heitkamp stated.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters they are trying to work out remaining amendment issues including the proposals by Rubio and Cruz, which differ in language.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., tried to add an amendment that would restrict President Donald Trump's ability to impose tariffs on the basis of national security, as he has with steel and aluminum, but Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, blocked it. Roberts and Stabenow were both opposed to adding the tariff amendment to the farm bill.

"Farmers around our country are being hurt by this administration's trade policies more than 20 farm bills can help them." Corker said, according to media reports.

Toomey also said, "This is the bill that addresses ag policy. This is the right moment to have this debate."

Roll Call noted Robert said Corker's proposal is relevant to agriculture because it "has been the No. 1 target when the administration imposes a tariff, why there is retaliation," Roberts said. "Agriculture is the target, and you lose markets."

Adding the tariff language to the farm bill required unanimous consent. Brown opposed it, blocking the amendment.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, got his language added to the farm bill, which would limit the number of farm managers who can receive farm-program payments. Grassley also took to Twitter to announce his amendment had been signed off by Roberts and Stabenow.

"GOOD NEWS it looks like we're on our way to the Senate adopting my amendment on payment limits in the Farm Bill so only REAL family farmers will receive them SO MUCH COMMON SENSE that Chair Roberts/RM Stabenow are including my amendment in the cmte (committee) bill."

Early Wednesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture on the farm bill. Under the cloture process, a vote on the final bill could be held one hour after the Senate convenes on Friday. But the senators could decide to yield time and hold the vote early, especially since the July 4 congressional break is looming. Or they could fail to come to agreement and have to take up the bill again after the break.

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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