Congress

Farm payment disclosure language delaying stopgap funds

Disagreement remains on how to information on payments made under Trump’s trade mitigation assistance program

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., talks with reporters after a news conference in the Capitol on August 13, 2019. On Wednesday, Hoyer said he hopes a stopgap funding bill would be filed as soon as lawmakers can iron out final details, including on language that would let the White House keep making payments to farmers and ranchers under President Donald Trump’s trade mitigation assistance. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Disputes over language that would let the White House keep making payments to farmers and ranchers under President Donald Trump’s trade war mitigation program were delaying release of a stopgap appropriations measure needed to keep the government open beyond the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

“Almost ready,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said Wednesday afternoon. She said outstanding issues include how to draft language that would provide adequate reimbursement to the Commodity Credit Corporation for payments made under Trump’s tariff relief program. The CCC is approaching its $30 billion borrowing cap and without the appropriations “anomaly” White House officials say they’d have to stop making payments to eligible farmers and ranchers.

[Health care riders, farm payouts slow stopgap deal]

 

“The question is, what’s the number” to provide the CCC, Lowey said. A House Democratic aide close to the talks added the issues surround how to write the bill in a way that doesn’t give the administration a “blank check for excessive funding.” The aide said disagreement also remains over transparency provisions Democrats want to include.

Trump’s Market Facilitation Program has made $28 billion available to farmers and ranchers hit by retaliatory tariffs by China and other countries since Trump began imposing tariffs last year. Democrats want to require disclosure of payments broken out by specific commodity, as well as state-by-state information. They also want to require release of data on where and why farmers are suffering losses stemming from the trade war.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a senior Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member, on Tuesday released a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue demanding a briefing for lawmakers on where the money has been going. She cited reports of money going to JBS, a large Brazilian-owned meatpacking firm, as well as money to advisers to Trump.

“Going forward, American farmers deserve transparency and to know these payments are going to them and not corporate agribusinesses,” DeLauro wrote.

[Draft stopgap would protect Ukraine aid, deny wall flexibility

House Democratic leaders initially left out any CCC funding replenishment from their draft continuing resolution. But they ultimately agreed to include it in the stopgap bill after pushback from farm-state lawmakers and House Agriculture Committee leaders.

Republican aides didn’t respond immediately on the state of play on the trade provisions.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke generally about the state of play on the CR. “Well, like anything, Republicans would first want to read the bill,” he said. “I know the Democrats are looking into putting it together now. We’d like to see what they come up with.”

Medicaid funding for U.S. territories running low on cash will be included, according to sources familiar with the talks. The provisions for increased Medicaid matching funds aren’t likely to benefit Puerto Rico, however.

The stopgap funding bill, expected to run through Nov. 21, was also expected to include a package of health care program extensions, such as funding for community health centers.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., earlier Wednesday said the current plan was to take up the stopgap bill on the floor Thursday or Friday.

Senate theatrics

As work on the stopgap measure continued, Senate Democrats blocked a push by GOP leaders to advance four spending bills for the coming fiscal year.

The motion to proceed to a four-bill package combining the Senate versions of the Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, State-Foreign Operations, and Energy-Water bills was blocked on a 51-44 vote. Sixty votes were needed to invoke cloture on the motion. The outcome was no surprise, as Democrats have promised to oppose taking up a Defense bill that wouldn’t stop President Donald Trump from diverting $3.6 billion from military construction projects to help finance a wall along the southern border.

Republicans accused Democrats of backtracking on a bipartisan budget deal reached last month, which included a side agreement banning “poison pill” policy riders in most cases. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats were attempting “to shoehorn their longstanding disagreements with President Trump into this appropriations process, even though we all agreed not to insist on poison pills or changing existing presidential authorities.”

Democrats countered that the wall project is wasteful and ineffective, and that the funds transfer encroaches on lawmakers’ constitutional control over the federal budget.

“I’m concerned that this undermines the Appropriations Committee, which I dedicated my Senate career to,” Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said on the floor. Durbin is the top Democrat on the Defense appropriations subcommittee.

The floor situation was shaping up as another setback to an appropriations process that remains months behind schedule, with no funding yet in place for the fiscal year that begins in less than two weeks.

Hoping to make up for lost time, Republicans sought to package four of their 12 annual bills together in a bundle similar to one the House passed earlier this year. The rush to get the measure to the floor led to a hasty release of two spending bills Wednesday that the Appropriations Committee shelved last week. Democrats had promised to offer amendments to the Labor-HHS-Education and State-Foreign Operations bills to reverse Trump administration abortion policies.

Republicans said the move would violate the agreement against “poison pill” amendments, but Democrats said avoiding Appropriations Committee consideration was an abrogation of senators’ responsibilities.

“What I feel strongest about is a suggestion that Senator McConnell has made that we just skip the committee and bring these things right to the floor,” said Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. “We are senators, we’re not so cowardly we have to hide behind a procedural motion.”

Full-year stopgap?

Congressional leaders and the White House are still struggling to figure out a game plan for the Homeland Security spending bill, the most contentious of them all and the reason for the 35-day partial government shutdown in December and January.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said no decisions have been made, but there’s been some discussion of simply rolling the bill for the Homeland Security Department into a full-year stopgap measure to avoid another drawn-out battle.

“We don’t want to do that and I don’t think the Democrats want to do that,” Shelby said. “There’s some talk on that. We’ll see.”

Shelby added that he hoped talk of a long-term CR didn’t extend to other spending bills as well due to lingering disagreements. “That’s what you might wind up with if we don’t get past a standoff,” he said.

Durbin didn’t rule out a yearlong stopgap for Homeland Security as one possible outcome, but said that there’s still hope for bipartisanship despite the current Senate standoff. “It’s been kicked around, but I don’t know that that’s how the story will end,” he said. “We’re waiting for this obligatory motion by Senator McConnell, with predictable results. After that, there’s a chance to start talking.”

Lindsey McPherson, Kellie Mejdrich, Jennifer Shutt and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

 

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