Still Time to Act on Key Farm and Transportation Issues

Posted on 03/09/2017 10:26 AM

Those saying not much will be done may be wrong

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material; therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The general farm media, which is generally wrong on things Washington, is now saying not much will be done or in focus for the remaining days of this Congress. Not so fast.

Cotton and dairy interests want some changes that could be done administratively, they hope. If not, some lawmakers want to add some “technical corrections” language to a must-pass bill, and that usually means a spending measure.

The Senate hopes to advance their version of child nutrition reauthorization, but it has taken them way too long to get going while the House acted a long time ago. Of course there will be major differences between the two chambers’ approaches that could kick the matter to a new Congress and administration.

Agribusiness interests know the importance of water and transportation issues. There is a growing push for a Senate floor vote on a water bill (WRDA). Senate action on a water project authorization bill is looking more likely for this month, following remarks by key lawmakers Tuesday voicing bipartisan support for the legislation, S 2848, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Debate could begin as early as today. But guessing daily events with this Congress is like waiting for La Nina to kick in.

Some WRDA hurdles ahead. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was surprised to learn that Republicans want to take up the WRDA bill considering the other, more pressing issues facing the chamber. He did say, however, that he would not block the bill from reaching the floor.

The Senate’s version of WRDA would authorize $10.6 billion in funding for Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects, including waterways and flood-control systems, as well as EPA drinking water infrastructure programs. The bill also includes a provision to send $220 million in low-interest state revolving fund loans to Flint, Michigan to help the city recover and repair its drinking water infrastructure after widespread lead contamination that still has residents drinking bottled water almost eight months after a federal emergency declaration. The Senate measure includes 25 Army Corps of Engineers projects, while the House (HR 5303) covers 28. That difference reflects three projects the corps approved after the Senate committee marked up its version of the bill, but before the House committee took up its version. A bill on the Senate floor could be amended to include those three.

Committee staff has been working with Senate offices to line up amendments to the bill to ensure its speedy consideration. There are potentially 43 new amendments since the committee reported the bill in April, according to Congressional Quarterly.

The House’s bill is also waiting for floor action.

Bottom line: Some farm lobbyists of late have played defense and not offense. This crowd includes those worrying about potential crop insurance and pay cap amendments. While those are possible, the odds they would see passage at this time are low. The key ag-related issues include the lack of true safety net support for some crops, including dairy and cotton. Transportation funding and priority needs are an ongoing issue for the business of agriculture and with bulging crops on the horizon should be a top issue for ag groups not mired with where the next farmer payment is coming from. As for corn and soybean safety nets, I see no problem other than those choosing the ARC may not like the lack of safety net if prices go and stay a lot lower. That should have been focused on by their lobbyists during the 2014 Farm Bill debate. But those were the days when “shall loss payments” was the phrase. Remember?


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material; therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.



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