Budget Likely to Overshadow Ag Issues as Congress Returns

By Casey Wooten

Sept. 2 — Don't expect Congress to address many agriculture issues in the few legislative working days between now and the November elections, analysts told Bloomberg BNA.

When lawmakers return Sept. 6, they will likely focus on striking a deal to fund the government beyond Sept. 30, when spending authority runs out. Between the budget work and a reluctance to touch on tough policy areas shortly before an election, there isn't much room for agriculture issues, despite stories from constituents of a hurting farm economy.

“Anything that is legislative in nature has got to clear the committee, clear the floor and land on the president's desk, and that's a pretty tall order in a four-week time period,” Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Bloomberg BNA.

The House is expected to be back on the road again in October for general election campaigns.

Rural Economy

Indeed, there have been steep drops in the prices of some farm commodities over the past few years, and that has had an impact on the rural economy (See previous story, 08/31/16).

Zack Clark, government relations representative at the National Farmers Union, said lawmakers know it.

“There's been a lot of pain in the countryside,” Clark said. “I think Congress has heard a lot of that when they were home for recess.”

Still, there's little that Congress can do legislatively in the short period it has left, but Clark says groups like his will continue to push lawmakers to provide more assistance to farmers over the next few months and into the upcoming lame-duck session at the end of the year.

The House Agriculture Committee will soon begin work to package information gathered from a series of farm economy hearings held throughout 2016, Clark said. The committee may compile the data into a document that could help inform key areas of focus when negotiating the next farm bill in 2017.

Funding, TPP

Congress must pass a bill to fund the government by the end of September, but it's likely it will forego the spending bills approved by each chamber's appropriations committees and opt for a short-term continuing resolution (CR).

A CR with no riders means there likely won't be an opportunity to include any of the agriculture-related provisions approved in the appropriations committees, such as legislation to nix a proposed USDA rule reworking agreements between contract farmers and processors who buy their livestock, known as the GIPSA rider (See previous story, 05/20/16).

Still, the Obama administration has requested some provisions be included in a continuing resolution. One would extend the Commodity Credit Corporation's borrowing power all the way to early November. That would help the government-owned entity stabilize commodity prices and provide agricultural loans through the CR's duration (See previous story, 08/29/16).

Many agriculture industry groups said that though it isn't likely Congress would take up the broad Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in September, the groups would continue to push for a vote in the lame duck.

“For those members of Congress that are concerned about agriculture, the single thing that they can do to help agriculture is to take up the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Jon Doggett, executive vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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