House Ag Committee approves reconciliation package after bruising session
The House Agriculture Committee late Wednesday approved the agriculture and nutrition provisions of the Democrats’ proposed coronavirus aid package after a highly partisan business meeting that was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and ended close to 10 p.m.
The vote was 25 to 23, along party lines.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., and the Democratic chairs of the subcommittee praised the package when it was released. The package includes $5 billion in aid to farmers of color and an extension of higher benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other nutrition provisions. The total cost is about $16 billion.
The package had its origins in the Biden-Harris transition team and in a bill that Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and others have proposed to help Black farmers.
But House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-Pa., started off the hearing with an opening statement in which he said, “Mr. Chairman, it is with a measure of regret that we begin our tenure together marking up this reconciliation bill.
“The members of the Ag Committee have long prided ourselves on our bipartisanship. We have worked together to find common-sense solutions to help agricultural producers, families in need, and both rural and urban communities. Unfortunately, today’s business charts a different course.
“Rather than spending time to work with Republicans, the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are abusing the reconciliation process to jam through a very narrow, partisan agenda with the barest of majorities.”
After more than six hours of debate on Republican amendments, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., and Thompson both said they were disappointed in the highly partisan nature of the proceedings.
Scott replied that the reconciliation package was developed “very, very quickly” to respond to “the emergency” that has developed because people have not been able to get vaccines against COVID-19.
Scott assured the Republicans that the reconciliation package process will not set a precedent for the committee’s future.
“You have not had a more bipartisan partner than David Scott in my years here,” Scott said.
“I know what is in your heart in terms of bipartisanship,” Thompson responded. “That is why this markup is so disappointing.”
In a statement after the markup, Thompson added, “House Democrats made it explicitly clear today there was never any intention to reach across the aisle and that the collective voice of Rural America would be silenced. In one breath, the chairman and his members praised our amendments, and in the next, they voted against them. They love our ideas and think they are necessary to protect families and the vulnerable from COVID — just not enough to upset [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.]’s budget power grab.
The Republicans offered a series of amendments that included one that would have reduced the amount of debt relief to minority farmers and one that would have shifted funds from SNAP to employment on training.
Only one Republican amendment appeared to win approval. That occurred when Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, voted with the Republicans in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, to make payments to farmers related to losses of crops including losses due to high winds or derechos.
“When I came to Washington, I promised to never let partisan politics get in the way of helping Iowans,” Axne said in a statement to The Hagstrom Report.
“This amendment will allow Iowans who saw their livelihoods devastated by last year’s derecho get the support they need to recoup their losses. By allowing them to access this aid, we keep them on the road to recovery – especially during a global pandemic and economic recession.
“No issue should gain more bipartisan support than helping those who are struggling through no fault of their own, and I will always put Iowa first.”
Rob Larew, president of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, urged the full House to pass the reconciliation package.
“The relief that Congress has offered Americans families and businesses over the last 11 months has proven pivotal to their ability to ride out the pandemic,” Larew said. “But it has by no means made them whole – far too many are still barely scraping by, living in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety. Not only is this not sustainable, but it also isn’t necessary; legislators can and should do everything within their power to help those who are hurting right now. We are encouraged that Congress is making substantial progress towards doing just that.
“This package includes a number of meaningful food and agricultural provisions that will help alleviate food insecurity, ensure the health and safety of food chain workers, expedite vaccinations in rural communities, lift up historically underserved farmers, and build resilience in the food system. Individually, these objectives are certainly worthwhile, and collectively they will bring us several steps closer to a full recovery. We applaud the House Agriculture Committee for their efforts and urge the rest of the chamber to provide Americans with much-needed assistance by swiftly passing this bill.”
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign SB 21-87, known as the Farm Workers Bill of Rights, though much of the content will be decided through the rulemaking process.