By Kristina Peterson and Jesse Newman
WASHINGTON -- The House was expected to move Tuesday to pass a
spending bill that would keep the government running through Dec.
11 but without farm-aid funds sought by the White House.
The bill, introduced Monday by House Democrats, sparked
frustration in the GOP-controlled Senate. Partisan tension is
running high after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.)
said he would move to swiftly fill the Supreme Court vacancy
created by the death Friday of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader
The government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. Oct.
The spending bill "will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the
middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes," House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Monday. She said the
short-term bill would allow time to agree on bipartisan legislation
to fund the government for the full fiscal year.
Mrs. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had agreed
earlier this month to pass a short-term spending bill devoid of any
contentious measures, referred to as "clean" on Capitol Hill. But
the bill became controversial Monday when Democratic leaders opted
not to include a request from the White House to replenish early a
program President Trump has tapped as aid to farmers.
Negotiators had been discussing pairing an infusion of farm-aid
funds with a provision sought by Democrats to extend a program
expiring at month's end for families of school-age children,
according to aides from both parties. The program enables families
to buy groceries, replacing the free or reduced-price meals they
would have received at school. But the spending bill released
Monday left out both.
Republicans said Democratic leaders had reneged on a bipartisan
agreement reached Friday, while Democrats said no final deal had
Mr. McConnell criticized the bill's omission of farm aid but
didn't say outright whether Senate Republicans would vote it
"House Democrats' rough draft of a government funding bill
shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers
need," Mr. McConnell said in a tweet Monday. "This is no time to
add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.)
said the farm aid was "desperately needed" but that the dispute
wouldn't shut down the government.
One possibility is that the Senate adds the farm funding onto
the spending bill before sending the legislation back to the House,
aides said. But such back-and-forth negotiations risk bringing
Congress to the brink of a partial government shutdown, if the
dispute isn't resolved by next Thursday.
The White House had requested $21 billion for the Agriculture
Department's Commodity Credit Corp., or CCC, a Depression-era
program designed to stabilize farm incomes. It permits borrowing as
much as $30 billion from the Treasury to finance its
Democrats said they had concerns over replenishing a program if
that meant giving President Trump a blank check to use for
political purposes after he announced more aid for farmers at a
campaign rally in Wisconsin last week.
The CCC program has traditionally been used to finance
noncontroversial payments established under bipartisan farm bills.
But critics have objected more recently when administrations
unilaterally used it for other purposes. Lawmakers placed
restrictions on its use between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in
response to the Obama administration's use of the program for
disaster assistance following crop losses in 2009.
The Trump administration has tapped the CCC to help finance
trade relief for farmers as well as the first round of
coronavirus-related aid to farmers. However, Congress included some
funding to reimburse it in previous relief legislation passed in
Democrats and Republicans diverged Monday in their assessment of
whether the CCC program would need to be shored up early, before
its annual replenishment, which typically takes place in November
or December after it submits financial forms and is audited,
according to the Congressional Research Service. Opinions differed
over whether the program would be depleted before it had completed
sending out farm-bill payments in October.
The Agriculture Department said Covid-19 relief payments pledged
by the administration had left it with only about $2 billion, and
that it would be forced to prioritize which farm bill payments
could be made starting in October.
But Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the
Senate Agriculture Committee, said Monday that Congress had already
provided the Agriculture Department enough funding for it to send
out October payments, and then it would be reimbursed in
"If there are additional needs, the [Agriculture] secretary has
tremendous flexibility to transfer unspent funds to fully fund Farm
Bill programs," Ms. Stabenow said.
The Farm Bureau estimated last week that once early October
payments have been sent, the CCC program could be exhausted by
Republicans and Democrats in farm states objected to its being
left out of the spending bill.
"I am deeply frustrated that once again Washington is playing
games with the vital aid that Iowa's farmers need," said Rep. Cindy
Axne (D., Iowa).
Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at email@example.com and
Jesse Newman at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 21, 2020 19:45 ET (23:45 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.