December 10, 2018
With the clock on their last Continuing Resolution (CR) quickly running down, Congress last week managed to avoid a partial government shutdown by giving their extension an extension – pushing their deadline to set spending levels from December 7 to December 21.
Earlier in the year, it seemed that Congress might be able to pass on-time appropriations bills by the original September 30 deadline, a rarity in recent years. Significant progress had been made among appropriators on several spending bills ahead of the deadline, however, they ran into difficulties finding agreement on seven of the twelve appropriations bills. Congress then could have moved forward some of the less contentious bills – including the agriculture appropriations bill – as part of a fiscal year (FY) 2019 “minibus” spending package, but their efforts were thwarted by several outstanding policy riders on which they could not find agreement. With no agreement ready by the deadline and a government shutdown looming at the end of September, Congress was forced to pass a short term Continuing Resolution (CR) to extend FY 2018 funding levels through December 7.
Last week’s new CR extends Congress’ timeline until December 21 – meaning that they’ll be under added pressure to advert a government shutdown and get Members out of town for the Christmas holiday. Right now, appropriators have several paths through which they could choose to move FY 2019 Appropriations bills forward:
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and sustainable food and farm communities have a lot at stake in the pending FY 2019 appropriations bill. Throughout the year, NSAC has led advocacy around conservation, beginning farmer and rancher, local food, and many other priority programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both of the original House and Senate agriculture appropriations bills for FY 2019 included additional investments in key programs. For example, the Senate bill increased funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP). The House bill increased funding for Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA); and both FY 2019 bills maintained a number of important program funding increases won in FY 2018. NSAC urges Congress to pass FY19 spending levels for these important priorities by the end of the year.
Additionally, the FY19 agriculture spending legislation also presents an opportunity for Congress to weigh in on the Administration’s proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This proposed move is concerning to the research, economics, and agriculture communities for several important reasons. The first is that the physical move of the agencies will isolate them from key colleagues and resources concentrated in the capital, and the second being that the administrative relocation of ERS from the research mission area of USDA to within the Office of the Secretary (under the direction of the Chief Economist) risks politicizing and therefore undermining USDA’s independent economic analysis agency. NSAC and its allies are requesting that no appropriated funds be used to support their relocation. Stakeholders have broadly recommended that a full review and cost-benefit analysis be completed before any major decisions, let alone moves, are made. An Inspector General report has been initiated to review the proposal, but that may take months to complete. We are deeply concerned about the proposal and continue to urge Congress, and appropriators in particular, to take action to challenge the proposed move.
In addition to passing agricultural appropriations legislation, Congress also has the farm bill on its to-do list for the end of the year. Within the past few weeks, the congressional leaders negotiating the major differences between the House and Senate bills have announced that they have reached an agreement “in principle.”
Many leaders in both chambers have pledged to get a compromise bill debated and passed on their respective floors ASAP. From there, it would need to be signed by the President before being enacted into law. NSAC is closely monitoring this process and will analyze how our conference priorities are reflected in a final conference report.
The stopgap measure that funds the government through December 21 also gives farm bill negotiators a bit more time to get something passed before the 115th Congress is complete. If Congress does not pass the farm bill as a standalone bill this week on the floor, they may also hitch it onto whatever appropriations legislation moves before December 21.
With just under two more weeks to go before this most recent CR runs out, Congress has a lot of work to do to advance key agriculture priorities for both appropriations and farm bill in 2018. NSAC will continue to report on any and all updates on the appropriations front, as well as provide ongoing coverage on the farm bill in the days and weeks ahead.