Measure blocks use of CCC funds for 'big oil' but Republicans block further restrictions
Bipartisan farm-state lawmaker pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders led them to alter their previous measure and to now include $21 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and around $8 billion for nutrition spending. The House Tuesday night passed a short-term spending bill keeping the government funded through Dec. 11. The bill passed in a 359-57 vote in the House. The Senate is expected to vote on it this week.
On to the Senate. The bipartisan agreement between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to smooth the bill’s passage in the GOP-controlled Senate. The House has passed 10 of the 12 annual spending bills, but those were agreed to largely without Republican support. The Senate has yet to approve any of its bills, even at the committee level.
Pelosi targets 'Big Oil.' We have reached an agreement with Republicans… to add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families,” Pelosi said in a statement (link). “We also increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout.” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Monday that USDA didn’t have the legal authority to make such payments. However, Democrats were unable to get Republicans to go along with other pushed restrictions on the use of CCC funds. Prior to the revised agreement, Pelosi, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and other Democrats had labeled CCC funding a “slush fund” for President Donald Trump. Stabenow on Monday said that Congress had already provided USDA enough funding for it to send out October payments, and that it would be reimbursed in November. “If there are additional needs, the [agriculture] secretary has tremendous flexibility to transfer unspent funds to fully fund farm bill programs,” Stabenow said.
Regarding the CCC funding, the program’s annual replenishment typically takes place in November or December after the CCC submits financial forms and is audited, according to the Congressional Research Service. USDA said that Covid-19 relief payments pledged by the Trump administration had left the program with only about $2 billion, and that it would be forced to prioritize which farm-bill payments could be made starting in October. Republicans and some Democrats said that any delays in payments could be detrimental to farmers already under pressure from the coronavirus’ effect on the agricultural economy.
Response. Republicans lauded the addition of farm-aid funds, while Democrats highlighted the new food assistance for children and families.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that the spending bill “reflects bipartisan agreement and includes nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for struggling Americans,”
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the House Ag Committee, noted that last Friday, there was a bipartisan agreement to fund all of the U.S. government, including USDA “so they could help rural America and our farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers through some very, very difficult times. But, then, that deal was rescinded by Democratic leaders in Congress. Under yesterday’s House Democratic plan, rural America, farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers were excluded from help under Covid-19 relief and even from basic farm bill support. As the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, I strongly opposed this deliberate, unconscionable snubbing of rural America. Thanks to President Trump and Republican Leaders in Congress who also strongly opposed this reckless stunt, the Democrats finally modified their funding bill to include the Department of Agriculture. Had Congressional Republican leadership not stepped in, USDA would have been forced to shut down critical Farm Bill programs supported by wide, bipartisan margins in both the House and the Senate. This would have hurt millions and helped nobody. I’m pleased that cooler heads prevailed and that USDA will now have the funds it needs to help our farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers get back on their feet.”
“Democrats have heard our call, and the calls from farm country, to not ignore rural America when funding the government,” said Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). “This bipartisan deal is a step in the right direction to allow agriculture producers across America to continue feeding the country and the world, especially at a time when markets are unpredictable and prices are low.”
Highlights of the measure:
• $21 billion sought by the White House for the CCC that permits borrowing as much as $30 billion from the Treasury to finance its activities. Funds would be available to reimburse the corporation for net realized losses that weren’t previously reimbursed as of Sept. 17. The measure also would bar the use of corporation funds to pay fossil fuel refiners and importers. Biofuel companies would be exempt from the ban.
• Around $8 billion in additional nutrition funding, extending through Sept. 30, 2021 the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (PEBT) program, which allows states to adjust their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP/food stamps) to provide additional aid to households with children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals for school closures related to the coronavirus pandemic. It would expand the program to include children at child care facilities affected by shutdowns and at schools with reduced attendance hours. The program was established under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill also would extend through Sept. 30, 2021, other program flexibilities included in the second coronavirus relief package, including waivers for the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The measure also would extend waivers for certain SNAP certification and reporting requirements through Sept. 30, 2021. The measure would appropriate the funds necessary to carry out the provisions.
• $1.5 billion in funding for the Census Bureau, though it left out a Democratic priority of extending the agency’s deadline to deliver data for its decennial count.
• Restrictions on federal agencies seeking to furlough any employees while the CR is in effect.
• $18 million to the General Services Administration to provide real estate and conduct activities related to the presidential transition. It would also extend contractors’ ability to seek reimbursement for employee sick leave during the pandemic. The Office of Personnel Management would receive authority to transfer money from its trust funds to offset losses from turning over background check responsibilities to the Defense Department.
• Extend surface transportation programs, the National Flood Insurance Program, and the Appalachian Regional Commission for a full year and would extend several expiring authorities of the Veterans Affairs Department.
• Extend through Dec. 11 the Interior Department’s authority to provide certain emergency drought assistance under the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act.
• Transportation programs: Federal highway, transit, and road safety programs would be extended by one year, through Sept. 30, 2021. The bill would appropriate $13.6 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund: $10.4 billion into the Highway Account and $3.2 billion into the Mass Transit Account. The authority to spend money from the Highway Trust Fund would be extended by one year, until Oct. 1, 2021. The measure would similarly extend expenditure authority for the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. The legislation would authorize spending from both accounts of the Highway Trust Fund and the general fund of the Treasury equal to, and subject to the same limitations as, the amounts appropriated in fiscal 2020 for surface transportation programs. Automatic adjustments to highway and mass transit authorizations for new deposits into the Highway Trust Fund, required by the 2015 highway bill (Public Law 114-94), wouldn’t apply to funds provided by the bill. The measure also would block any adjustment of apportionments for the Mass Transit Account based on unfunded authorizations, known as the Rostenkowski Test, for fiscal 2021.
The measure also would:
• Increase to $600 million, from $500 million, the cap on the amount of funding for nationally significant freight and highway projects that could go toward intermodal freight projects.
• Increase to $26.6 million, from $21.2 million, the authorization for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research into in-vehicle technology to prevent drunk driving.
Repeal a prohibition on federal funding to cover operating losses on Amtrak routes.
• Extend by one year, through Sept. 30, 2021, the Transportation Department’s loan and loan guarantee authority to support development near rail stations.
Measure would extend through Sept. 30, 2021:
• Authority for USDA to collect fees for grain inspection and weighing services, and to conduct activities related to grain export and domestic markets.
• Authority for an industrial hemp research program.
The bill also would:
• Authorize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to collect user fees to support its reviews of over-the-counter drugs and its regulation of production facilities.
• Provide a customary payment of $174,000 for the beneficiaries of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
• Allow Ginnie Mae to commit $1.29 trillion, instead of $550 million, to guarantee securities backed by federally insured mortgages.
• Provide $13 million for the District of Columbia to prepare for the presidential inauguration.
• Reduce or eliminate discretionary funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will now be covered by mandatory funding under the Great American Outdoors Act (Public Law 116-152).
• Remove certain restrictions on U.S. aid to Sri Lanka.
• Renew funding and extend deadlines for state and local governments to spend money they received through Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants, also called national infrastructure investments, in fiscal 2017 and 2018.