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Agreeing to disagree as government shutdown continues

Legislative Watch: Programs impacted by shutdown; ag appropriations passes House; Round 1 U.S.-China talks; Senate ag committee assignments; Roberts retiring; USDA nominees need to start over; Wheeler nominated to head EPA.

P. Scott Shearer

January 11, 2019

5 Min Read
Government shutdown, no end in sight illustration
iStock/Getty Images Plus/CatLane

This weekend will mark the longest federal government shutdown in history with no end in sight to when it will be over. Both sides seem to be more dug in now than they were last week. They both claim to support border security, but cannot even agree on the definition or the facts concerning border security and what are the most-effective solutions.

President Trump’s nationwide address this week did not move the needle in public opinion. He is now moving toward declaring a national emergency which would allow him to bypass Congress. If he moves in this direction, it will immediately be challenged in the courts.

The longer the shutdown continues there will be a growing number of government functions that will be affected. Approximately 800,000 federal employees were not paid this week.

USDA took steps concerning February Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments and extending the sign-up deadline for trade-relief payments. The Food and Drug Administration is trying to determine how to bring back some inspectors because it has had to stop food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and other foods at high risk of contamination because of the federal shutdown.

USDA extends deadline for MFP
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the deadline for producers to sign up for the Market Facilitation Program would be extended for every business day that Farm Service Agency offices are closed, once the government shutdown is over.

The original deadline was Jan. 15. Producers who have certified their 2018 production with FSA will continue to receive their MFP payments during the government shutdown.

SNAP payments to continue during shutdown
The Trump administration announced that recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program will receive their February benefits early. The administration believes it has the legal authority if they provide the funds by Jan. 20. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue indicates this is a one-time fix. USDA does not have the funds for March benefits unless Congress passes an agricultural appropriations bill.

Over 120 Congressmen sent a letter to Secretary Perdue asking how USDA would operate the program if the shutdown goes beyond January.

There are nearly 39 million people who receive SNAP benefits with approximately two-thirds being children, elderly or people with disability. Total monthly benefits are approximately $4.8 billion.

House passes ag appropriations
The House of Representatives passed legislation to fund USDA and the Food and Drug Administration through Sept. 30.

The $145.4 billion bill provides $23.235 billion in discretionary funds which is $225 million over fiscal year ’18. It provides mandatory funding for the latest estimates needed to fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Child Nutrition programs.

The bill is similar to the agriculture appropriations legislation passed by the Senate. However, the Senate Republican leadership does not plan to consider the bill until there is an agreement with the president on the border wall.

U.S.-China complete first round of trade talks
The United States and China finished the first round of trade talks this week. These meetings were the first face-to-face negotiations since President Trump and President Xi Jiping met in December and agreed to a 90-day truce in the trade war.

China pledge to purchase “a substantial amount” of U.S. agriculture, energy and other manufactured products. There were also discussions on technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft. In a statement, the U.S. Trade Representative says there were discussions on the “need for any agreement to provide for complete implementation subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement.”

The next round of negotiations is expected to take place in Washington, D.C., in February. President Trump has said if there is no agreement by March 2, he will increase the tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%.

Senate Agriculture Committee assignments
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) will remain as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will continue as the ranking member. There are two new committee members — Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Braun (R-IN).

The committee members are: Republicans — Roberts, Mitch McConnell (KY), John Boozman (AR), John Hoeven (ND), Joni Ernst (IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Braun, David Perdue (GA), Chuck Grassley (IA), John Thune (SD) and Deb Fischer (NE). Democrats — Stabenow, Pat Leahy (VT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Michael Bennet (CO), Kristin Gillibrand (NY), Bob Casey (PA), Tina Smith (MN) and Durbin.

Roberts retiring
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), one of the strongest voices for agriculture in Congress, announced he will not be seeking re-election in 2020. Roberts was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980 and the Senate in 1996. He is the first member to have served as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. In those positions he passed the 1996 and 2018 farm bills.

USDA nominees will need to start over
The USDA nominees Mindy Brashears, undersecretary of Food Safety; Scott Hutchins, undersecretary for Research, Economics and Extension; and Naomi Watts, assistant secretary of Civil Rights, were not confirmed by the Senate before the end of the 115th Congress. The White House will have to resubmit the nominations for consideration in the new Congress.

Wheeler nominated to head EPA
President Trump has nominated Andrew Wheeler to be the next Environmental Protection Agency administrator. He has been serving as acting administrator since last July when former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned. Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 as EPA’s deputy administrator and is a former Senate staffer and energy lobbyist.

Source: P. Scott Shearer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

About the Author(s)

P. Scott Shearer

Vice President, Bockorny Group, Inc.

Scott Shearer is vice president of the Bockorny Group Inc., a leading bipartisan government affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C. With more than 30 years experience in government and corporate relations in state and national arenas, he is recognized as a leader in agricultural trade issues, having served as co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for U.S.-China Trade and co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for Trade Promotion Authority. Scott was instrumental in the passage of China Permanent Normal Trade Relations and TPA. He is past chairman of the USDA-USTR Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products and was a member of the USAID Food Security Advisory Committee. Prior to joining the Bockorny Group, Scott served as director of national relations for Farmland Industries Inc., as well as USDA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs (1993-96), serving as liaison for the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to Congress.

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