Washington Update

WASHINGTON UPDATE

Federal budget

Following a 35-day lapse in government funding for several federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Congress passed a temporary measure in late January to fund the government through February 15 – allowing more time for negotiations on border security. On February 14, both the House and Senate approved a measure to provide funding for federal agencies through the fiscal year ending September 30. The deal provides just over 23 billion dollars in funding for USDA and related agencies; highlights include funding for combatting the opioid crisis in rural America, and investments in agriculture research, conservation, and farm service programs.

With just over 1.3 billion dollars in border barrier funding, the bipartisan agreement fell short of President Trump’s request of 5.7 billion dollars. Subsequent to signing the federal spending deal on February 15, the President announced his intention to issue a national emergency declaration in order to divert unspent funds appropriated for other purposes to fund a border wall. Several states and some private organizations are challenging the emergency declaration in court. The House of Representatives is expected to take up a measure to block the President’s emergency declaration this week. As of press time, House Democrats had not secured sufficient votes to override a presidential veto, which President Trump has signaled.

House and Senate Agriculture Committees

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have continued their organizing efforts for the 116th Congress, announcing their membership and respective House and Senate subcommittee assignments for the new session. With this organizational work largely completed, the Committees, led by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), can now move forward with their legislative agenda and hearing schedule. This week both Committees will hear from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a House hearing at 10:00 am Eastern on Wednesday, February 27, and a Senate hearing at 9:30 am Eastern on Thursday, February 28. Secretary Perdue is expected to discuss the state of the rural economy and implementation of the Farm Bill, including the impact of the lengthy shutdown of operations at USDA.

Pesticide registration

On February 13, Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow introduced legislation with Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM) to reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act PRIA). In a joint statement the Senators said the bill “supports EPA in providing timely approvals of crop protection tools to prevent, manage, and eradicate devastating pests and plant diseases that threaten our food supply, as well as a variety of consumer products” while including “protections for farmworkers, including resources to train farmworkers in the safe and responsible application of pesticides.” The bill makes technical changes to the current program and extends authority for the EPA to collect updated pesticide registration and maintenance fees through Fiscal Year 2023. PRIA reauthorization is supported by a number of agriculture, environmental, labor, and other groups. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on February 14, and now heads to the House of Representatives.