Ag issues to watch as spending deadline approaches


Ryan McCrimmon, POLITICO



WELCOME TO YOUR WEEK: We’re about halfway through September, and all eyes on Capitol Hill will soon turn to the stopgap spending bill Congress must pass to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month.


Priority No. 1 is keeping the lights on at the Agriculture Department, FDA and other agencies — all the more important in the middle of a pandemic — but there are a few other ag-related issues that could be part of the potential package.


Keep the stimulus funds flowing: The White House has asked Congress to include language in the continuing resolution that would ensure USDA can keep making trade aid and coronavirus relief payments to farmers and ranchers burned by retaliatory tariffs and supply chain disruptions.


The same request last year prompted a partisan spat when Democrats considered withholding the provision — a move that would have effectively frozen Trump’s tariff relief program — but they ultimately backed down. Of course, such a standoff is far less likely this year, as there’s much broader support for the ongoing coronavirus farm rescue programs compared with Trump’s trade bailout checks.


Disaster aid: Congress could add emergency funds to the CR to address severe weather damage across the country, from hurricanes in the Southeast to the catastrophic wildfires on the West Coast — and potentially the derecho that ripped across Iowa and other states in August, if needed. But there’s some resistance from top appropriators to bundling the two issues together, per our Pro Budget colleagues.


Funding fix for ag inspections: There’s also pressure from industry groups to stem a budget shortfall for agricultural inspectors tasked with keeping plant and animal diseases from reaching the U.S. and causing havoc for crop and livestock producers. The program is funded by fees, which dried up after the steep drop in travel and trade, as we flagged earlier this summer. Now there’s heightened concern after African swine fever was discovered in Germany last week.


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