Sides tiptoe toward a COVID-19 deal, but breakthrough appears distant
House Republican introduces amendment to include farm aid in stopgap funding bill
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, on Monday introduced an amendment to a stopgap government funding measure that would provide farm aid and extend child nutritional assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.
House Democrats earlier Monday introduced a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funding through Dec. 11.
Negotiators aimed to release a bipartisan stopgap bill on Friday, but talks collapsed after the parties were unable to reach an agreement on whether a provision to provide additional payments to farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which is capped at a borrowing limit of $30 billion, should be included.
House Democrats ultimately opted to omit the language to provide more funding to CCC on Monday, a move that sparked strong backlash from Republicans in both chambers and leaving just over a week to come to an agreement and avoid a damaging government shutdown.
Conaway's amendment would change the bill to include language to "reimburse the Commodity Credit Corporation for net realized losses sustained" and extend the increase in child food benefits through 2021.
"This amendment is simple and straightforward. It reflects the bipartisan agreement that was reached last week, and then reneged on by the Democratic leadership on Friday. My amendment replenishes the CCC, the Commodity Credit Corporation, and provides pandemic funding increases for SNAP," Conaway said during a House Rules Committee mark up following the bill's release.
"Up until recently, the CCC has been replenished on a bipartisan basis, without controversy. But once again, Democrat leadership has upended this long-standing practice, and I have no real idea why. Democrat leaders are mad at the Trump administration, because they've used the CCC dollars to provide trade aid to farmers or ranchers and dairy producers hurt by China, and apparently now the Democrats are mad that the administration is providing CCC dollars to help farmers or ranchers and dairy producers hurt by COVID-19."
Democrats, however, argue a sweeping Democrat-led relief package that passed the House in May provided relief for farmers that have taken a financial hit as a result of the pandemic and allege the administration is using the funding for political gain.
"What the Trump Administration wanted added to the clean CR wasn't help for farmers - it was more than $20 billion more taxpayer dollars that the Trump Administration views as a bottomless, unaccountable political slush fund," one senior Democratic aide said.
Republicans have indicated that the Democrat-led bill faces an uphill battle without the CCC language. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to avert a government shutdown, and the showdown over the bill comes just weeks ahead of election day.
"House Democrats' rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted.
And a senior administration official told The Hill it's unlikely the president will sign the stopgap bill should it pass both chambers without the provision.
House Democrats are expected to bring the CR to the floor as soon as Tuesday.