Democratic leaders in Congress have refused to allow the replenishment of a key Agriculture Department account, accusing the White House of using it as a “political slush fund.”
The Trump administration and farm groups had asked Congress to include a provision in an interim financing bill to top up Commodity Credit Corp’s $ 30 billion account. that USDA uses to make payments to farmers.
The provision was omitted from the text of the standing resolution that was released in the Democratic-controlled House on Monday. The bill, which the House will vote on later this week, aims to keep government open until December 11. The new fiscal year begins October 1, but Congress has not passed any spending bills for fiscal year 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Quickly attacked the CR in a Tweeter: “The preliminary draft of a government finance bill by House Democrats shamefully omits the essential relief and support American farmers need. Now is not the time to add insult to injury to injuries and to deny aid to farmers and rural America. “
Senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (above) of Michigan, supported the exclusion of the CCC provision, saying during the year Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Policy Summit Monday afternoon that the account would be automatically populated in November after the USDA filed its report on CCC’s expenses for fiscal 2020.
She said the ministry should be able to manage the account adequately to make the agriculture and conservation program payments that are due in October. “It’s irresponsible not to make sure you put those dollars aside for the regulator’s October payments,” she said.
Stabenow has been particularly critical of the handling of the account by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, arguing that trade assistance payments made under the market facilitation program have been skewed in favor of farmers in the South and large operations.
“We are in an election year. It has become a real political issue as opposed to… looking at the numbers and what needs to happen in a practical way, ”she said.
The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement explaining the decision which read in part: “What the Trump administration wanted to add to clean VC was not aid for farmers – it was more than $ 20 billion more than bottomless and inexplicable political slush taxpayers. “
The statement went on to note that Trump announced new round of coronavirus food assistance program at a campaign event in Wisconsin last Thursday. USDA announced the rules for the next day’s program. The program is funded by Congress with $ 14 billion allocated to the CCC account through the CARES Act, enacted in March. Registration for CFAP-2 payments began Monday and ends December 11.
The statement also noted that the White House wanted to use the CCC account to make payments to small refiners who were recently denied waivers to the renewable fuels standard.
The statement also cited a Government Accountability Office report released last week which analyzed the distribution of PMF payments, which were funded by the CCC to compensate farmers for the impact of trade disruptions.
An analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Soybean Association estimated that the CCC account could have as little as $ 2 billion available on October 1, not counting the $ 14 billion earmarked for COFOG, and that the ‘USDA is expected to generate $ 6.9 billion in commodities. and conservation program payments in October.
A letter Congress leaders signed by more than 40 farmer groups said if the CCC was not replenished this month, “payments and programs would be significantly delayed, jeopardizing operations across the country.”
The continuing resolution includes several important provisions for various agricultural sectors, including the hemp industry. The bill would extend the powers of the hemp pilot programs until September 30, 2021. Under current rules, the industry is expected to comply with state regulations by the end of October.
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Other provisions would extend the Mandatory Livestock Reporting Act and the Grain Standards Act, both of which are due to expire at the end of the month.
The bill would also ensure that the USDA can meet the demand for direct and guaranteed farm property loans.
Senate Farm Credit Subcommittee Chairman North Dakota Republican John Hoeven said in a statement to Agri-Pulse that failure to replenish the account will delay the processing of marketing loans as well as the distribution of farm program payments due in October. “In October, November and December, we anticipate that CCC will need an additional $ 15 billion or more to meet its obligations,” the statement said.
Senior House Agriculture Committee Republican Mike Conaway of Texas appealed to the House Rules Committee Wednesday afternoon to allow for a floor debate on an amendment that would add funding for the CCC. He said leaving it out was “a terrible policy and, frankly, a bad policy.”
As if to underline her point, first-term Democratic Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa released a statement shortly after criticizing the exclusion from funding for the CCC. “I am deeply frustrated that Washington is once again playing games with the life-saving help Iowa farmers need as they continue to fight the long-term effects of a public health crisis , an economic downturn, a trade war and recent natural disasters, “she said.
The Rules Committee ultimately refused to allow a floor debate on both Conaway’s amendment and one proposed by first-term Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer to fund the CCC account. Axne and Finkenauer face tough re-election races.
Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., Used a Tweeter to detonate Democrats: “HOGWASH Alert: House Democrats have tabled a fundraising bill, notably off Commodity Credit Corp $$. Replenishing the CCC has long been uncontroversial and is necessary to support 4our farmers. back + will fight for the farmers. ”Grassley was referring to Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is in a close race for re-election.
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