Washington Week Ahead: Court fight looms, as lawmakers seek to fund CCC

Source: By Philip Brasher, Agri-Pulse • Posted: Monday, September 21, 2020

Lawmakers look to move a compromise stopgap funding bill this week to keep the government operating until December, even as much of the nation’s attention is focused on the Supreme Court opening created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

One of the last remaining issues still being negotiated into the weekend with the funding bill was the replenishment of the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp. account.

There is still the possibility that congressional leaders and the White House could agree on a major new coronavirus relief package before lawmakers head home in October to campaign, but there has been little sign of progress.

In any case, the nation’s attention this week is expected to be on the Ginsburg legacy and the possibility that President Donald Trump could fill the vacancy even if he loses re-election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged to hold a vote on a Trump nominee; the question is whether McConnell will have the votes to confirm the president’s pick. Republicans control the Senate by 53-47 and cannot afford to lose more than three GOP votes; Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie. Maine Sen. Susan Collins and

Among the GOP senators being watched: Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who had indicated he wouldn’t consider a nominee this late in a president’s term if he were still chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina now chairs the committee, and said he would consider a Trump nominee. Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins announced Saturday that she wouldn’t support a vote on Ginsburg’s replacement until after Inauguration Day. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski took the same position in an interview took place shortly before Ginsburg’s death was announced.

After Ginsburg died of pancreatic cancer Friday night, Grassley issued a statement praising her legacy. “She was a trailblazer in so many ways and for so many people. Her sharp legal mind, tenacity and resilience leave a remarkable imprint on our nation and her legacy will live on for generations to come.”

As for the stopgap funding bill, aides said Sunday that Democratic leaders had not yet signed off on including the CCC replenishment in the CR.

The text of the continuing resolution, details of which were still being worked out into the weekend, is not expected to be released until Monday The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon to approve floor procedures for the measure.

Farm groups argued that the CCC account is in danger of running short in October, leaving USDA unable to make scheduled commodity and conservation program payments. Trump tweeted on Friday in support of replenishing the account: House Speaker Nancy “Pelosi wants to take 30 Billion Dollars away from our great Farmers. Can’t let that happen!”

USDA is tapping the account to make a second round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments, using $14 billion that was added to the account under the CARES Act, enacted in March to rescue the economy from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrollment for the CARES-2 payments opens Monday and will run through Dec. 11. The program has been expanded with new eligibility rules and payment calculations that allowed many new commodities to qualify, wine grapes, goats, turkeys, bison, mohair, tobacco, hemp, and three classes of wheat: soft red winter, hard red winter, and white.

Also on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, and other major names in government and agribusiness will headline Agri-Pulse’s annual Ag and Food Policy Summit, being conducted online this year.

The speakers, who will explore links between food security and national security, will include Jose Andres, the chef and anti-hunger advocate who has become a leading figure in food policy debates.

Other speakers will include executives from companies such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Elanco and Indigo; the U.S. ambassador to the UN food and agriculture programs, Kip Tom, and retired Gen. William E. (Kip) Ward, inaugural commander of AFRICOM.

Perdue will also headline the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual Washington conference on Tuesday.  Wednesday’s general session will feature a town hall on the presidential election with former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack representing Joe Biden and former Perdue chief of staff Ray Starling representing Trump.

On Tuesday, Perdue will speak at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s online Interactive Ag & Environment Conference.