Congress is gearing up for a busy month after the Memorial Day recess, with both the House and Senate advancing fiscal year 2019 spending bills, as well as the House’s reconsideration of the farm bill and the Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill mark-up expected to occur in June.
Farm Bill: Under a rule adopted by the House on Tuesday (May 22), Republican leaders have until June 22 to decide if they want to move ahead with a motion to reconsider the 2018 farm bill. The rule extends the life of a motion filed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on May 18 to reconsider the farm bill vote after the House rejected the legislation (H.R. 2).
The farm bill failed to pass on the House floor last week after confronting strong opposition from Democrats and some moderate Republicans, who opposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the bill, as well as the conservative House Freedom Caucus intent on forcing action on a separate immigration and border security bill. The bill failed 198-213, with 183 Democrats and 30 Republicans voting against it.
House leaders are trying to work out an agreement with the House Freedom Caucus for a vote on the immigration legislation sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., before voting on the farm bill again. Revisions reportedly are being made to Goodlatte’s legislation to make it more palatable to agricultural interests and other Republican members.
Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to release and mark-up its own version of the farm bill in early June. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. If both chambers are unable to pass and agree on a bill this year, the 2014 farm law would need to be extended.
During the farm bill process, the NGFA is encouraging senators to support reforms to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) embodied in the “Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work” (GROW) Act. NGFA members have the opportunity to advocate for CRP reform here.
Inland Waterway and Port Infrastructure Resources: Senate and House committees approved water infrastructure packages this week, but it’s unclear when each chamber will vote on the bills.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its version (H.R. 8) of the Water Resources Development Act by voice vote on Wednesday (May 23). The bill focuses on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, authorizing new projects and permitting full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to finance port dredging and other port projects. The House bill would accomplish the latter objective by moving the HMTF off-budget to allow for full-use of HMTF funds to be used solely for harbor-maintenance purposes.
Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced its broader version of water infrastructure legislation, the “America’s Water Infrastructure Act” (S. 2800) unanimously on Tuesday (May 22). The bill would require the Army Corps of Engineers to provide Congress with an annual work plan and projected budget for four years into the future to ensure projects get funded. The Senate bill also calls for the National Academies of Science (NAS) to conduct a study to examine how the Corps can increase transparency in cooperating with Congress, state, and local governments, stakeholders, and other cost-sharing partners.
The House bill contains a similar NAS report requirement, directing that the independent entity evaluate and report to Congress on the current organizational structure of the Corps’ Civil Works functions and identify impediments to efficient waterway project delivery and recommendations for improvement.
Neither bill contains the barge lockage and tolling proposals advocated by the Trump administration in its FY 2019 proposed budget, which were opposed strongly by NGFA and waterway groups.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., told reporters he thinks the House bill will be considered on the House floor during the first week of June. “The Senate bill is always different than the House bill so we’ll have to go to conference and figure out the differences,” Shuster said according to media reports. “Keeping it narrow, keeping it focused on Corps projects is the way you get it through the House.”
In a related development, the full Senate Appropriations Committee on May 24 approved its version of the fiscal 2019 energy and water appropriations bill, which would allocate $6.9 billion in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, about $100 million more than the current fiscal year and $2.1 billion more than the president’s budget request. Among other things, the bill for the fifth consecutive year would provide for full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which potentially would be sufficient to finance the Corps’ top four priority projects if the administration allocates funding in the agency’s 2019 fiscal year work plan. The Senate appropriations bill also would provide $2.2 billion for the Corps’ construction budget – $1.3 billion more than proposed by the White House – and $3.7 billion for its operations and maintenance budget – $1.6 billion more than proposed in the president’s budget.
Also for the fifth consecutive year, the Senate appropriations measure would meet the spending targets contained in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which would amount to $1.5 billion for fiscal 2019.
The NGFA is a vocal advocate for improvements and continued investments to the U.S. waterways infrastructure, which are necessary for U.S. agriculture to remain competitive in global markets. An efficient waterborne transportation system is critical for the movement of U.S. agricultural exports and the positive contribution they make to the economy. These issues will be addressed at the upcoming Agricultural Transportation Summit, scheduled for July 25-26 in Arlington, Va., which will focus on “Connecting Growing Supply with Growing Demand” and feature panels highlighting port issues, as well as top officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.