By Bobby Frederick, Director of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy
Build the Wall or Shut It Down?
A partial federal government shutdown will commence one week from today if Congress is unable to strike a deal on the remaining seven appropriations bills. The biggest sticking point is funding for a wall along the United States’ southern border. President Trump wants $5 billion while congressional Democrats have signaled they would support a level of $1.6 billion. With Democrats retaking control of the House beginning on Jan. 3, 2019, this is the most leverage the administration will have during the next two years to secure further investment in a border wall. House Republicans also introduced a tax package that would extend a number of tax credits and deductions, including the biodiesel credit. However, enactment of these so-called tax extenders is not assured at this point.
Farm Bill Inches Closer
House and Senate farm bill negotiators announced Thursday that an agreement in principle had been reached on the 2018 farm bill.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., indicated that the last remaining hurdle – forestry-management wildfire provisions – had been resolved, and that agriculture committee staff now is drafting legislative text and the Congressional Budget Office is analyzing the cost of the bill’s various provisions. House and Senate leadership are pressuring farm bill negotiators to finalize the language so Congress can vote on a farm bill in the last legislative days of the year.
More Mid-Term Election Results
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., defeated challenger and former U.S. agriculture secretary Mike Espy, D-Miss., in Tuesday’s runoff election bringing finality to the 2018 Senate midterm elections. Senate Republicans outperformed history by netting two additional Senate seats. Since 1934, the president’s party, on average, has lost four Senate seats during midterm elections. The 116th Congress will be comprised of 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats/Independents.
Believe it or not, 24 days after election day there still is one race that has not been called. In California, incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao narrowly trails Democrat TJ Cox with more votes still left to count. If Cox holds on, Democrats will have netted a 40-seat gain in the midterm election, besting historical averages by about 50 percent. Republicans currently control the House 236-195 (with four vacancies), but about a month from now Democrats would have 235 seats to 200 for Republicans, making this a nearly exact “flip” of the House.
Leadership Elections and Committees
Current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., easily won a vote to be the Democrats’ nominee for Speaker of the House this week during an internal caucus meeting. Still, she will need to win a public vote on the floor of the House on Jan. 3 and can only afford to lose 17 Democratic votes under the assumption that all Republicans will vote against her.
House Republicans likely will choose current House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, to serve as ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. They elected Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., to serve as the ranking member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Meanwhile, House Democrats likely will pick their committee chairmen and chairwomen next week. Current House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is expected to easily win the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., most likely will head the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Another item for NGFA members to watch is the ratio of members serving on the various committees. To the victor go the spoils and whereas House Republicans currently enjoy a 26-20 seat advantage and 34-27 seat advantage over Democrats in the Agriculture and Transportation/Infrastructure Committees, respectively, that ratio will flip as the calendar turns to 2019. In the Senate, Republicans also will increase slightly their ratios on various committees.
Working on a Plan for Fiscal Year 2019
Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publicly released its fiscal year 2019 work plan. As expected, the work plan calls for full-use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to the tune of nearly $330 million.
This funding will be devoted to five projects: $50 million for the completion of Olmsted Lock and Dam, $43.6 million for the Kentucky Lock, $89 million for three locks on the Lower Monongahela River in Pennsylvania, $89.7 million for the Chickamauga Lock in Tennessee and $57.5 million to complete the major rehabilitation funds for the LaGrange Lock and Dam on the Illinois Waterway.
Unfortunately, no funding was allocated for pre-construction, engineering and design work for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). But the NGFA and its partners will continue to make the case for funding 1,200-foot locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System.
Senate Ag Committee Considers More Nominations
The Senate Agriculture Committee conducted a hearing this week to consider three of President Trump’s nominees to serve in positions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If ultimately confirmed by the full Senate, Dr. Mindy Brashers would serve as under secretary of agriculture for food safety; Naomi Earp would become assistant secretary of agriculture for civil rights; and Dr. Scott Hutchins would become under secretary of agriculture for research, education and economics.