Republicans, Stabenow spar over ag in coronavirus bill
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., organized a colloquy on farm provisions in the Senate version of the phase three coronavirus bill today, but Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., explained why Democrats are objecting to the agriculture and nutrition provisions in the bill.
“Our farmers and ranchers are working overtime to deliver food to our grocery shelves across this great country,” Hoeven said. “At the same time, they’re facing real challenges. As just one example, the cattle industry has lost between $7 billion and $9 billion over the past two months. That’s just one sector of the agriculture economy. Congress needs to act and act now to ensure that farmers, ranchers, and rural America receive the relief they desperately need.”
The Senate bill includes a provision to increase funding for the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corporation, a line of credit at the Treasury which can be used to help farmers with their problems. Under current law, that spending is limited to $30 billion per fiscal year. The coronavirus bill replenishes the CCC for the current year and provides an additional $20 billion. It would also allow the CCC to make payments to livestock producers who have been hit by low prices.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said that Democrats initially said they wanted to make sure that all the money was not spent on livestock and that the bill had been changed so that it would also be spent on crops. Moran said that the Democrats later said they are opposed to the CCC provision being included in the bill and removed themselves from a letter that Hoeven was organizing for farm groups to express their support for the provision.
Stabenow then took to the floor and said that Democrats have a joint interest with the Republicans supporting farmers. But Stabenow, who has questioned the formula that the Agriculture Department used to provide trade aid to crop farmers, noted that her Michigan cherry farmers have been faced with imports from Turkey and gotten no assistance under trade aid.
She also said that Democrats are determined that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will receive an increase in benefits.
“We can’t leave out people who are struggling to eat,” Stabenow said, noting that previous crisis legislation has included an increase in SNAP benefits.
Stabenow also stressed that she and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., had worked well together on the last two farm bills and said, “We are certainly willing to work with you.”
Near the end of the colloquy, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said he was “encouraged” that Stabenow wants to work with the Republicans, but the bottom has fallen out of the cattle market and “unfortunately, we don’t have time to waste. We just don’t have time to waste. This isn’t something that can be put off to another day.”