Farm Aid, Election Security Stall Spending Bill
By Kristina Peterson
WASHINGTON -- A spending bill that Congress needs to pass to
avoid a partial government shutdown next month hit last-minute
snags Friday, as lawmakers and President Trump sparred over aid for
farmers and election security.
Lawmakers had hoped to unveil Friday a short-term spending bill
to keep the government running after its current funding expires on
Oct. 1. But fights over what to include in the legislation --
potentially the only major bill to get signed into law before the
election -- delayed finalizing what is expected to be a bipartisan
agreement that could pass in both the House and Senate next
One debate emerged over the White House's request to include $21
billion for the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corp., or
CCC, a Depression-era program designed to stabilize farm incomes
and which permits borrowing of as much as $30 billion from the
Treasury to finance its activities. Democrats said they objected to
replenishing a program that they say President Trump is tapping for
political purposes after he announced more aid for farmers at a
campaign rally in Wisconsin on Thursday night.
The CCC program helped finance the first round of
coronavirus-related aid to farmers, although Congress included some
funding to reimburse it in previous relief legislation passed in
March. But aides said its resources were already being depleted
even before Mr. Trump announced a second round of $13 billion in
farm aid at Thursday night's rally.
Funding that second round could impede the program's ability to
send out noncontroversial commodity support and conservation
programs established by the farm bill, aides said. Once early
October payments have been sent, the CCC program could be exhausted
by November, the Farm Bureau estimated this week.
Mr. Trump is eager to turn the matter into an election-year
fight with Democrats. On Thursday night, the president spoke to
reporters on Air Force One for more than 20 minutes off the record.
He agreed to only allow one comment to be used on the record: "She
doesn't want to give farm aid to the farmers. She doesn't want to
give farmers any help," the president said of House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi (D., Calif.)
Democrats said that while they supported the CCC program, they
said the administration's relief effort has favored bigger farms
over smaller ones.
"The payments going out to farmers have not been fair," Sen.
Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate
Agriculture Committee, said on the Senate floor Thursday. "They
have been picking winners and losers, they have been picking
regions in the south, big farms in the south, over the Midwest,
over our smaller farmers and over those who frankly many of whom
have had the biggest losses."
Lawmakers were also negotiating Friday over whether to include
additional funding for election security. Democrats had hoped to
include $3.6 billion for state and local officials to help them
hold elections during the pandemic, which has prompted many areas
to expand vote-by-mail options and invest in protective equipment
for poll workers.
Republicans pointed out that they have already given $400
million to help overcome coronavirus-related election challenges in
the Cares Act, which passed in March.
"The Senate has provided historic sums of money for this
important purpose and significant portions of it are still
unspent," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) wrote in
a letter Thursday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.,
Mr. Schumer earlier this week called for the formation of a
special bipartisan committee, with an equal number of Democrats and
Republicans, to ensure the election's integrity, in addition to
"I am hopeful we can still find agreement, on a bipartisan
basis, to help our states with critical funding to prepare for this
historic election," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Lawmakers were also discussing whether to include a bipartisan
measure that would give the U.S. Census extra time to finish its
count of the U.S. population and deliver that information to the
president and Congress.
Mrs. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed earlier
this month to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the
government running when its funding expires on Oct. 1.
It wasn't clear Friday afternoon if the spending bill would be
finalized later in the day, or over the weekend.
"We're just working out the details," Mrs. Pelosi said Friday on
Bloomberg TV. "I have said for a while now that we would keep
--Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 18, 2020 17:05 ET (21:05 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.