House delays debate, vote on CR
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced this morning that the House will delay a planned debate and vote on the continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 11 but that the vote may still take place later today.
It is unclear whether the delay is related to the ongoing debate over whether to include a provision to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation that makes payments to farmers and to fund the Pandemic EBT program, which provides payments to families with children who are not getting regular school meals. The Pandemic EBT program expires Sept. 30. The CR that the House was scheduled to consider does not contain either provision.
The House was supposed to begin debating the rule on the continuing resolution and other bills at 11 a.m. and debate and vote on the continuing resolution later today, but after 10 a.m. Hoyer announced that the House will debate bills on the suspension calendar.
“Members are advised that the House may still consider H.R. 8319 – Continuing Appropriations Act 2021 – today. Further information regarding exact timing will be announced as soon as it becomes available,” Hoyer said.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, proposed an amendment at the House Rules Committee hearing Monday to include both provisions, but the rule that the House adopted did not make Conaway’s amendment in order.
Democrats say that the Agriculture Department doesn’t really need the CCC provision because the CCC has plenty of remaining authority and will get a replenishment after an end-of-the-fiscal year audit, but Republicans say that without the authority to continue spending payments could be delayed.
If the House passes the CR without the CCC or Pandemic EBT provisions, the Senate could try to add it, but that would mean the House and the Senate would have to go to conference on the CR before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Monday that the $44 billion in CCC funds and an additional $9.5 billion in direct producer assistance Congress already provided “will give USDA enough money to spend on farm bill programs through October, if managed appropriately — including additional COVID-19-related disaster programs authorized under the CARES Act.”
Stabenow also said, “Under current law, unchanged by the continuing resolution, the Commodity Credit Corporation will receive its normal reimbursement in mid-November after filing financial reports for the fiscal year as required by law.”
A source with knowledge of how the CCC works said that Stabenow’s statement is correct, but the speed with which the reimbursement becomes available depends on USDA’s efficiency in completing an end-of-the-fiscal year report on CCC spending, the audit of that report and the Treasury Department’s speed in authorizing the line of credit. Normally, the audit takes place in October and the fresh line of credit is established in November but could stretch into December, the source said.
But after Stabenow’s statement, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., told The Hagstrom Report in an email, “The $14 billion we secured in the CARES Act was expressly intended to assist producers with impacts related to the coronavirus pandemic. USDA is using it to provide CFAP 2 [the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program], which opened today and already has more than 10,000 applications. These funds are designated for CFAP 2 and are not allowed to be redirected for farm bill programs. Without reimbursing the CCC in the CR, USDA will be delayed in providing farm bill programs in the first quarter. After the annual CCC report is finalized, the CCC annual reimbursement typically occurs near the end of the year. This October, November, and December, we expect the CCC will need an additional $15 billion or more to meet their obligations. If we don’t provide the anomaly, important farm programs will be delayed, including the Marketing Assistance Loans, which need to go out this fall to help producers market their crops later in the year when they can get a better price. Additionally, the Price Loss Coverage and Conservation Reserve Program payments would be delayed. We need to reimburse the CCC in the CR to ensure that these important farm bill programs aren’t delayed at a time when our farmers and ranchers very much need this help.”
Stabenow has been upset with the Trump administration over formulas it has used to provide aid to farmers and by rumors that the Trump administration intended to use the CCC to make payments to oil companies that did not get waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters today that if the House doesn’t include the CCC provision he hopes the Senate will add it. But he noted that the action would have to be taken so that there is enough time for a conference before the end of the fiscal year.
Of Stabenow’s concern that USDA may use the CCC to help oil companies, Grassley noted that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Monday that he doesn’t plan to use the CCC to help the oil companies. Perdue acknowledged that Trump wants to help oil companies, but said, “We don’t think that qualifies under Charter 5 of the Commodity Credit Corporation Act, and we’ve informed them of that. So we’ll have to see what happens.”
Grassley said he has “some sympathy” for Stabenow’s statements that the Trump administration’s formulas for aid have disproportionately benefited Southern farmers over Midwestern farmers, but Grassley added that disproportionately aiding Southern farmers “didn’t seem to bother her when she was one of the two writers of the bipartisan farm bill.” The Southerners are “getting away with murder” for the five-year life of the farm bill, he said, adding that “she should have been fighting that battle with me way back then.”
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