Outside of the president's signature, the farm bill is done. But USDA is not out of the woods yet when it comes to needed congressional action to keep the doors open.
USDA is one of several federal departments that could face a shutdown if Congress doesn't come to terms over funding for a border wall by the latest Dec. 21 deadline. USDA's annual $23 billion or so agricultural appropriations bill remains tied up in the talks.
Other departments tied up in the battle include Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, EPA, the State Department, Interior and the agencies that oversee financial regulations such as CFTC and SEC.
In a call Thursday about the passage of the farm bill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, briefly talked about the possible shutdown. The Ag Committee largely operates as a cheerleader for appropriations, but Conaway said there weren't any outstanding issues with the USDA funding bill, but all of those appropriation bills are tied up with the dispute over the border wall right now.
Agriculture Secretary "Sonny Perdue would be responsible for declaring who is essential and who is not, which is an awful thing to do because everybody can't be essential," Conaway said. "That process would be with USDA would be caused up in it."
Conaway added, "It's all about the wall and the president's funding request for the $5 billion for the wall." Congress had granted $1.6 billion so the fight is down to a difference of about $3.4 billion in funding. "In the scheme of the amount of money we spend here, it's not the largest amount of money we've had to come up with on the fly."
On the farm bill itself, Conaway said that passing the legislation will help with some of the anxiety among farmers. The 369-47 vote in the House also was higher than Conaway thought the bill would receive and it is one of the highest, if not the highest, vote total ever for a farm bill. "It was a bi-partisan farm bill, the way it should be," Conaway said.
Conaway had no specific timeframe for when President Trump might sign the farm bill, or hold a ceremony, but paperwork on the bill has to be completed before the bill is sent over the White House, and the government-funding dispute likely needs to be settled first.
Responding to a question, the congressman kind of took a shot at Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, over payment limits and actively-engaged rules that Grassley repeatedly has failed to get into the final farm bill.
"I would be open to, if the senator wants to create a pilot project in Iowa, for Iowa farmers and producers to be subjected to those improvements in his mind, we would certainly be supportive of letting Iowa be the example if we wants to do that," Conaway said.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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