Stimulus package stalls in the Senate


Ryan McCrimmon, POLITICO

03/23/2020 10:00 AM EDT


The Senate on Sunday shot down a $1.6 trillion stimulus package, ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers to strike a deal today to keep the economy on life-support. Democrats who voted against the legislation said it failed to expand nutrition benefits, among other changes. But the Republican proposal would open the door for more direct payments to farmers and ranchers.


STIMULUS PACKAGE STALLS IN THE SENATE: Congressional leaders and the White House were racing to reach an agreement on a massive coronavirus relief package, after Senate Democrats rejected Republicans’ latest proposal on Sunday evening. The chamber voted 47-47 to reject the measure — well short of the necessary 60 votes — sending stock futures plummeting and injecting even more urgency into negotiations.


The latest draft of the stimulus package included more than $15 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and $9 billion for child nutrition programs. But Democratic aides said those funds would only pay for SNAP changes that Congress already approved last week (as well as the projected bump in SNAP recipients as businesses shut down and lay off employees) rather than an additional expansion of benefits.


Teeing up more farm payments? The legislation also hiked the annual borrowing limit for the Commodity Credit Corporation — the Depression-era USDA agency facilitating President Donald Trump’s farm bailout program — from $30 billion to $50 billion. And it provides emergency appropriations for USDA agencies to keep operating amid the pandemic.


The latest stimulus plan also ditched a few tax changes that were included in the first draft, but it still contains a technical fix to the 2017 tax code rewrite that allows certain restaurants and retailers to immediately write off renovation costs. But Democrats have not yet agreed to that fix, reports Pro Tax’s Bernie Becker...


PERDUE KEEPING CLOSE TABS ON COMMODITY PRICES: The USDA chief on Sunday said the department is “actively monitoring all ag commodity markets and the flow of food from FARM TO FORK during the [coronavirus] outbreak,” following heightened concerns from lawmakers and producers about potential manipulation in the livestock market.


Cattle ranchers have asked USDA for “emergency measures” to keep livestock producers afloat amid the pandemic, which is exacerbating the financial disparity between suppliers and the meatpackers who buy their livestock. In a letter to Trump last week, R-CALF USA claimed large processors are paying producers the same price for cattle as they did a decade ago — even though consumers are now paying 25 percent more for beef at the grocery store.


On Sunday, Perdue assured livestock producers that “we hear you! I expect all of our producers and stakeholders to be patriotic, honest brokers … while we weather this pandemic.” In a series of tweets, he wrote, “We are paying special attention to the difference in prices from the farm gate to the grocery shelf.”


Industry response: The North American Meat Institute, which represents packers and processors, said on Sunday its members are “mindful of the disruption the pandemic has caused in cattle markets and will do all they can to alleviate adverse effects on critically important suppliers.”


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