Lawmakers push for lame duck spending deal

Source: By Ben Nuell, Agri-Pulse • Posted: Monday, November 16, 2020

The House is back in session this week along with the Senate, and lawmakers face a lengthy to-do list, which includes passing a stimulus bill as well as an omnibus appropriations measure to fund the government through the rest of fiscal 2021.

Also this week, a coalition of farm and conservation groups will announce the formation of a new Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, which on Tuesday will issue more than 40 policy recommendations for addressing climate change. One of the recommendations will be to incentivize climate-smart practices through a USDA carbon bank, tax credits or conservation programs.

The coalition includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and National Farmers Union.

The stimulus negotiations are being left by the White House to Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but the sides are still far apart on how much money they should spend. Over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted his support for the House-passed $2.2 trillion HEROES Act. Senate Republicans have been pushing a $500 billion plan.

Sen. John Boozman, who will take over next year as the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the stimulus talks won’t go anywhere unless Democrats come down substantially. “We’re just so far apart,” he told Agri-Pulse.

Schumer calls the Republican $500 billion coronavirus package  “emaciated,” and Pelosi insists the HEROES Act is the only “formula for crushing the virus.”

However, both the House and Senate seem eager to pass an omnibus spending bill before Congress adjourns for the year. There are 12 appropriations bills that must be passed by Dec. 11 before government funding runs out. The measures are expected to be wrapped into a single omnibus measure, if the House and Senate can work out their differences.

Pelosi told reporters Friday that she and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., “had this conversation assuring each other that we want to have a bill,”

Shelby also sounded hopeful. “I’d say what we brought out the other day, we’re probably 90% together on,” he said.

Shelby’s committee last week released its 12 FY21 bills, which include the Agriculture measure, which funds USDA and FDA, and the Interior-Environment bill, which funds the Interior Department, EPA and the Forest Service, part of USDA. The House passed its version of the bills earlier this year.

The Senate Ag bill would provide $400 million in new funding for USDA’s ReConnect program, which provides grants and loans to expand broadband service to rural areas. The House-passed legislation earmarks $990 million for the program.

Before the end of the year, Congress also needs to pass a bill to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act, which funds projects critical to the nation’s inland waterways. Also on the congressional to-do list is reauthorization of the Grain Standards Act and the Livestock Marketing Act.

The House needs to select new leaders for committees that have jurisdiction over key agricultural areas. The positions include the chairs of the House Agriculture Committee and House Appropriations Committee, and the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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