Other Ag News: A Big Week Ahead for Agriculture: Decisions Will Shape the Landscape for 2018 Farm Bill

Friday, April 21, 2017 - 10:51am

US Capitol. Credit: USDA

The annual process for funding federal programs — known in Washington D.C. as the appropriations cycle — should be a fairly cut and dry process of allocating money (or not) to previously authorized programs; however, in recent years the appropriations process has often been used as a backdoor method to legislate. Rumors have abounded over the past few weeks about a number of major policy decisions that may be snuck into the fiscal year (FY) 2017 appropriations package: cotton may be allowed back into Title I of the farm bill; mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs may be cut and reallocated through a process known as Changes to Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS); dairy farmers who have been asking for changes to the Margin Protection Program (MPP) may get their wish; and the currently stalled Farmer Fair Practices Rules (FFPR) may see even further setbacks if anti-farmer policy riders are green lit.

The race to finalize the FY 2017 appropriations process before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on April 28 is front and center as Congress returns from its April recess next week. However, other major ag-related decisions loom shortly thereafter. On Monday, May 24th the Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Sonny Perdue for Agriculture Secretary. This vote comes on the heels of the release of Perdue’s answers to Senator’s written questions submitted at his confirmation hearing. Included among his responses were statements of support for organic and local foods, as well as a comment that there is a “significant debate within the scientific community” about whether humans are causing climate change.

And, as if all that were not enough, there was word yesterday that President Trump wants Congress to attempt another vote on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) next week. Health care quality and access is a major issue in rural America, particularly for young farmers, so the agricultural community will likely be following this latest round of ACA debates closely.

Agricultural Legislation via Appropriations

The current CR funding the government expires next Friday, so Congress has just one week to work out myriad conflicts in order to avoid another government shutdown.

According to many DC insiders, congressional appropriators have already reached agreement on all the normal agricultural funding issues (they are said to be the same as the funding levels laid out last December). Two sets of non-traditional appropriations issues, however, remain works in progress – changes to the farm bill and the potential inclusion of a non-farm bill policy riders.

The farm bill issues being debated include:

  • Creating a new multi-billion dollar farm bill baseline for the cotton industry, which would allow cottonseed oil to be treated as a farm bill commodity subsidy program.
  • Modifying the dairy Margin Protection Program to increase the likelihood of program payouts, thereby creating an expanded permanent baseline for dairy in the farm bill.
  • Slashing funding for conservation programs (again). Some in Congress are seeking to reduce the long-term farm bill baseline for farm bill conservation programs by following through with CHIMPS suggested by both the House and Senate’s appropriations bills. These CHIMPS would directly affect spending for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) (proposed in both bills) and potentially the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) (proposed only in the House bill).

There are also a multitude of other policy riders being sought that would restrict USDA from protecting contract livestock farmers from abusive contracting practices, delay rewriting nutrition labels, weaken nutrition standards for school meals, and exempt Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) from chemical release disclosure laws.

Congress will have to wrestle with all of these issues in the five days it has left to pass its appropriations package and send it to the President’s desk. The President must sign an appropriations package or another CR before midnight on Friday or face a government shutdown.

Other Complicating Issues

The spotlight is on agricultural appropriations right now because of Congress’ sudden drive to add billions in farm bill commodity subsidy dollars to a bill that is historically only intended to deal with annual discretionary funding – not multi-year farm bill mandatory funding. But agriculture is far from the only complicating factor for the FY 2017 appropriations cycle. President Trump’s supplemental funding request for the military ($30 billion) and for funds to build his border wall with Mexico (originally $1.4 billion but now $3 billion) will make it difficult for appropriators to deliver anything even resembling a balanced budget.

There is also the specter of a possible House and Senate vote on legislation to repeal and replace the ACA; a process that has potential to completely upend the appropriations process by taking up valuable debate time. Last month’s effort to repeal ACA was a failure that created a significant amount of partisan and intra-majority party discord. Another attempt at a vote during the same week that Congress faces a looming government shutdown is sure to further complicate bipartisan negotiations on a spending package.

As always, NSAC will be following and analyzing appropriations and farm bill developments as they come. To review NSAC’s appropriations priorities for FY 2017 and 2018 click here, and to learn about NSAC’s 2018 Farm Bill priorities, click here.

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