Congressional Leaders Debate Farm Aid Ahead of Spending Vote
By Kristina Peterson and Lindsay Wise
WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders on Tuesday were discussing
whether to restore farm-aid funds and food assistance to a spending
bill needed to prevent a partial government shutdown next month,
Democratic aides said.
House Democrats had planned to bring the bill, which would fund
the government through Dec. 11, up for a vote later Tuesday. But
they paused while leaders hashed out whether to make changes that
would likely end the brewing partisan battle over the funds.
Lawmakers have little time for a protracted clash over the spending
legislation, since the government's current funding expires next
"We are committed to making sure we fund the government," House
Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) told
reporters Tuesday, saying the spending bill would come up for a
vote in the next day or two.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) was discussing the
spending bill with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a Democratic
aide said Tuesday. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Mnuchin had agreed earlier
this month to pass a spending bill devoid of any contentious
measures to avoid a partial government shutdown.
"The talks continue and hopefully we'll reach an agreement,"
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Tuesday.
At issue is whether to include $21 billion sought by the White
House for the Commodity Credit Corp., or CCC, a Depression-era
program designed to stabilize farm incomes that permits borrowing
as much as $30 billion from the Treasury to finance its
President Trump has tapped the program to finance both trade
relief and coronavirus-related aid for farmers, a second round of
which he announced at a campaign rally in Wisconsin last week. But
the program has traditionally been used to send out payments
established under bipartisan farm bills, some of which the
Agriculture Department said could be subject to delays as soon as
"This is a situation where it's desperately needed," Rep. Glenn
Thompson (R., Pa.), a member of the House Agriculture Committee,
said of replenishing the CCC program.
Many Democrats object to giving what they view as a blank check
to Mr. Trump to use for political purposes, but are also eager to
avoid a government shutdown during a pandemic.
Lawmakers on Friday had been coalescing around pairing a CCC
infusion with an extension, sought by Democrats, of a program
expiring at month's end that allows families of school-age children
to buy groceries to replace the free or reduced-price meals they
would have received at school. But the spending bill released
Monday by House Democrats left out both.
"We thought we had a deal the other day, but they took it out in
the House," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby
(R., Ala.) told reporters Monday. Republicans said Democratic
leaders had reneged on a bipartisan agreement reached Friday, while
Democrats said no final deal had been reached.
"We're talking now," Mr. Shelby said Tuesday. Aides said the
discussions involved extending some other nutrition programs as
Democrats and Republicans diverged this week in their assessment
of whether the CCC program would need to be shored up early. The
program's annual replenishment typically takes place in November or
December after the CCC submits financial forms and is audited,
according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Agriculture Department said that Covid-19 relief payments
pledged by the Trump administration had left the program with only
about $2 billion, and that it would be forced to prioritize which
farm-bill payments could be made starting in October.
Democrats said that the Agriculture Department chose to swiftly
transfer Covid-19 relief funds out of CCC and into Agriculture
Secretary Sonny Perdue's office even before beginning to take
applications and without factoring in coming farm-bill payments.
The Agriculture Department said it had disbursed previous Covid-19
relief payments from Mr. Perdue's office and had to handle the
recently announced relief funds the same way, resulting in a
drawdown of the CCC.
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 that 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
Jesse Newman contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at email@example.com and
Lindsay Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 22, 2020 14:45 ET (18:45 GMT)
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