Upon their return to Capitol Hill, members of the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives were met with a congressional agenda laden with fiscal issues that must be dealt with prior to the end of September. In addition to an emergency funding package in response to Hurricane Harvey, Congress must also advance Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 appropriations bills – as well as a continuing resolution and an increase in the debt ceiling.
The first order of business is an emergency spending package related to Hurricane Harvey. The Trump Administration has requested $14.55 billion from Congress, with $7.9 billion being appropriated immediately as emergency supplemental FY 2017 funds.
Of this amount, $7.4 billion is for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support ongoing response efforts and $450 million is slated for the Small Business Administration (SBA) for the agency’s disaster loan program to assist small business and homeowners.
The remaining $6.7 billion of the Administration’s request is to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund as part of an anticipated continuing resolution.
Also on the appropriations front, the end of the current fiscal year means work on the eight remaining appropriations bills for fiscal 2018 must move forward. Although the Senate and House Appropriations committees rejected most of the Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget reductions for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are a number of key differences.
In the Senate, appropriators included language that would block reorganization of rural development programs at USDA and the elimination of the rural development undersecretary post. The Senate bill also includes language that would allow cotton farmers to be eligible for payments from the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program.
For dairy producers, the Senate bill modifies the Margin Protection Program (MPP) in an attempt to make coverage more affordable for farmers. It would also require USDA to use monthly animal feed data as part of the payment formula.
Also of note is a ban on horse slaughter. Although the last domestic horse meat slaughter facility closed in 2007, the issue remains a sensitive one within the public policy arena.
Speaking of policy, it was no surprise that a number of riders were included in the Senate version of the Agriculture Appropriations bill, including; a ban on the import and sale of genetically engineered salmon and block funding for USDA to implement a rule requiring convenience stores and similar retailers to expand the categories of food they stock in order to remain eligible to redeem Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The dynamics were a bit different when House appropriators crafted their version of the bill. They were silent on the USDA reorganization issue and did not include language banning USDA inspectors from examining horses slated for slaughter to provide meat for human consumption overseas.
Policy riders in the House bill include; a blockage of funding to carry out a rule allowing China to sell cooked chicken to the United States, unless USDA ensures China has an inspection system equivalent to the system used in the U.S. A
The bill would allow legal foreign workers (primarily temporary agricultural workers brought in through the H-2A visa program) to use farm-worker housing currently limited to Americans and permanent U.S. residents and would block funding for USDA to implement a rule requiring convenience stores and similar retailers to expand the categories of food they stock to remain eligible to redeem SNAP benefits. This latter provision mirrors language in the Senate bill.
As House leadership pushes ahead on regular appropriations action on the floor, the mechanics of how the spending bills will make it across the goal line remain uncertain. The eight-bill omnibus package would likely be combined on the floor with a four-bill “minibus” (HR 3219) that has already been passed by the House. A full 12-bill omnibus would then be sent to the Senate.
Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates writes about public policy and the political environment. He also serves as Co-Director of Heartland Advocates. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.