This Week in DC
Congressional negotiators are trying to close a deal that could increase border security funding while funding USDA, FDA and other agencies important to agriculture for the rest of fiscal 2019 and provide disaster aid for farmers hit by the 2018 hurricanes.
Biodiesel producers also have been lobbying hard to include in the deal an extension of the industry’s expired $1-a-gallon tax credit.
The government could partially shut down again if lawmakers can’t reach agreement by the time a stopgap spending bill expires on Friday. Going into the weekend, some lawmakers were expressing confidence that won’t happen, but the talks appeared to be stalled as of Sunday.
“I’m very optimistic,” the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said on Friday. “I don’t think anyone sees the debacle we experienced for 35 days,” he said, referring to the five-week shutdown that started Dec. 22.
However, the talks stalled over the weekend over Democrats' insistence on limiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds. A Democratic aide said the cap would "force the Trump administration to prioritize arresting and deporting serious criminals, not law-abiding immigrants."
Bishop has been pushing to include in the deal authorization for up to $3 billion in agricultural disaster aid. A source familiar with the negotiations said this week the authorization level was likely to be less than that, because USDA’s damage estimates have come in lower than the affected states’ earlier numbers. However, the source added the legislation would likely include higher coverage levels for growers who lost crops to the hurricanes.
"The longer we delay it (the disaster aid) the more difficult it will be for farmers to being the next planting season,” Bishop said.
But speaking on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the negotiations are currently stalled and the next 24 hours would be crucial for finalizing a deal.
"I'm not confident we are going to get a deal. I'm hopeful we're going to get a deal," Shelby added.
Also this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will be in China to continue negotiations to resolve the ongoing trade dispute that has resulted in 25 percent in retaliatory tariffs being imposed on soybeans, cotton and other U.S. commodities.
Trump has threatened to increase tariffs on China exports if there is no deal by March 1, but that deadline is widely expected to be extended to allow more time for the negotiations.
The Senate this week is moving toward a final vote on a sweeping public lands bill that would permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses oil and gas royalties to acquire lands for conservation and recreation.
The bill, which combines about 100 individual lands bills, reflects a bipartisan compromise worked out at the end of the last Congress. But while the legislation has broad support from conservation groups, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the American Sheep Industry Association both oppose the section that would permanently reauthorize the conservation fund. The fund’s authorization expired in September.
In a joint letter to Senate leaders, the two groups said it would be “irresponsible for Congress to relinquish its oversight authority and give a blank check to the federal agencies for the purposes of land acquisition.”
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