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First divided Congress since ’13 begins

Legislative Watch: Congress session begins, though government is shutdown; FSA offices closed, other USDA functions impacted; U.S.-China talks continue.

P. Scott Shearer

January 4, 2019

4 Min Read
U.S. capitol building in Washington, D.C.
iStock/Getty Images Plus/tupungato

The 116th Congress was sworn-in yesterday with the Republicans controlling the Senate (53-47) and the Democrats in charge of the House (235-199 with one North Carolina seat in dispute). This is the first time there has been a divided Congress since 2013.

This is the most diverse Congress ever. The Senate has the greatest number of female Senators in history with 25. There are nearly 100 new House members. The House has 332 men and 102 women of which 317 members are white, 55 members are black, 44 are Hispanic, 15 are Asian and four are Native American.

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected the 63rd Speaker of the House of Representatives even though some Democratic members voted against her, citing the need for new leadership. The opposition to Pelosi never found an alternative to run against her. Pelosi is the first person since 1955 to regain the Speakership after losing it earlier.

No end in sight to government shutdown
With both sides digging in, there seems to be no end in sight to the government shutdown now in its 14th day. There was no progress made in a meeting on Wednesday between President Trump and Congressional leaders in finding a way to end the shutdown. Another meeting is scheduled for today, but no breakthrough is expected.

The House on the first day of the new Congress passed two appropriations bills that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 and would fund the nine federal departments and agencies (USDA, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Justice, Commerce, etc.) affected by the shutdown through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. The bills will not go anywhere in the Senate because of Republican objections even though the Senate approved similar bills last year.

Trump continues to threaten to veto any appropriations bills that does not include $5.6 billion for the border wall. He even rejected a plan that Vice President Mike Pence proposed to Democrats prior to the shutdown.

FSA offices closed during shutdown
USDA’s county Farm Service Agency offices are now closed during the government shutdown. Producers who have certified their 2018 production with FSA should continue to receive their Market Facilitation Program payments during the government shutdown.

Producers who have not signed up for MFP will not be able to sign up while the FSA offices are closed. The deadline for signing up for MFP is Jan. 15. The USDA has not decided if the deadline will be extended if the government shutdown is not over by Jan. 15.

More USDA functions affected by shutdown
The USDA recently announced because of the continuing government shutdown additional functions ceased effective Jan. 1. Besides FSA county offices being closed, other USDA functions are affected including implementation of the 2018 farm bill.

The USDA is expected to decide soon if they will be able to release the supply-demand, grain stocks and crop production reports scheduled for next Friday.

In a press release, the USDA listed various functions affected by the shutdown.

  • No new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses.

  • Recreation sites across the U.S. National Forest System, unless they are operated by external parties under a recreational special use permit, will be closed. While technically closed, many will still be physically accessible to visitors at their own risk, but without staffing at ranger stations and without access to facilities such as public restrooms.

  • New timber sales.

  • Most forest fuels reduction activities in and around communities.

  • National Agricultural Statistics Service statistics, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections.

  • Assistance for the control of some plant and animal pests and diseases unless funded by cooperators or other non-appropriated sources.

  • Research facilities except for the care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure to preserve agricultural research.

  • Provision of new grants or processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education and Extension.

  • Economic Research Service Commodity Outlook Reports, data products, research reports, staff analysis and projections. The ERS public website would be taken offline.

  • Most departmental management, administrative and oversight functions, including civil rights, human resources, financial management, audit, investigative, legal and information technology activities.

  • Mandatory audits (financial statements, Federal Information Security Management Act and potentially improper payments) will be suspended and may not be completed and released on the date mandated by law.

U.S.-China negotiations
A U.S. delegation will be in China to begin negotiations on Jan. 7 to try and resolve the trade war between the two nations. Discussions will include tariffs and intellectual property.

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last weekend talked by phone of the importance of resolving the trade dispute. According to Trump, progress was made by the two leaders.

Trump has put on hold additional tariffs while the negotiations proceed. If there is no resolution, he plans to increase tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese products.




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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