By Bobby Frederick, Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy
With 60 days until the November 2020 presidential election, Congress has about four weeks to consider unfinished legislative business before the home stretch of campaigning that will decide who leads the House, Senate and White House in 2021.
Here are some of the legislative questions NGFA members may be asking:
Will There Be Another Round of COVID-19 Economic Stimulus?
Congress worked at lighting speed to authorize more than $3.5 trillion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April. Since then, a stalemate has emerged between the House and Senate over both the need for and the amount of a future COVID-19 stimulus response bill. In May, House Democrats passed another $3 trillion COVID-19 bill, while the Senate opted to introduce several smaller measures totaling around $1 trillion. Congress recessed in August and it appears little, if any, progress has been made during the interim in bridging this $2 trillion gulf between Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
Further complicating these stalled negotiations is the Sept. 2 announcement from the Congressional Budget Office projecting that next year, for the first time since World War II, the federal debt will be larger than the entire U.S. gross domestic product. This largely is attributable to the more than $3.5 trillion Congress authorized to stimulate the economy during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unless the current dynamics change, NGFA does not expect Congress to pass additional COVID-19 legislation before the election. However, the post-election lame duck session in November and December may provide better circumstances for Congress to reach a deal on the next COVID-19 stimulus bill.
Will the Government Shut Down on Sept. 30?
It may be hard to remember, but the government shut down for four days in January 2018 over an immigration policy dispute and again in December 2018 for 35 days over a disagreement on border security spending. Barring a spending agreement on fiscal year 2021 appropriations, government funding is slated to lapse at the end of September.
An agreement on government spending is seemingly the last “must-pass” legislation for Congress to consider before heading home to campaign for re-election. Control of the Senate is highly contested, and it would seem to defy common and political sense for Congress to leave the nation’s capital in the middle of a government shutdown to campaign.
Anything is possible, but at this time, NGFA believes the most likely outcome is that Congress will agree to a short-term “continuing resolution” that will keep the federal government funded until after the election, but at current fiscal year 2020 levels.
Will Congress Pass a New U.S. Grain Standards Act (USGSA) Reauthorization Bill Before Provisions Expire on Sept. 30?
NGFA has been working hard to ensure that amidst the pandemic and debate over government funding that priorities such as the USGSA aren’t forgotten. Since 1916, Congress has routinely reauthorized the USGSA on time and in a bipartisan fashion. This week, NGFA sent a frequently asked questions document to all 535 congressional offices reiterating the importance of the USGSA and highlighting the potential disruptive implications if some of its provisions are allowed to expire.
The NGFA strongly supports enactment of the Senate Agriculture Committee-passed U.S. Grain Standards Reauthorization Act of 2020 (S. 4054), which would extend expiring provisions of the law for another five years and includes modest policy improvements advocated jointly by NGFA and the North American Export Grain Association that are aimed at improving the official inspection and weighing system through more transparency, information-sharing, and achieving better data. The NGFA has been working closely with its State and Regional Affiliates and national commodity groups to keep the pressure on Congress to enact this important priority.
Will Congress Continue Its Winning Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Streak?
Since 2014, Congress has successfully passed WRDA legislation every two years. This gives lawmakers and stakeholders like NGFA an opportunity to influence positive changes in inland waterway and port infrastructure policies during each session of Congress. From NGFA’s perspective, Congress still seems poised to keep this streak going by enacting another WRDA by the end of the year.
Importantly, both the Senate and House have agreed to change the cost-share formula for the construction and major rehabilitation of each inland waterways navigation project from 50 percent general revenue and 50 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) user fee dollars to 65 percent general revenue and 35 percent IWTF. This will expedite inland waterways projects reconstruction projects significantly. NGFA continues to advocate this cost-share formula change and to make it permanent.
In addition, the House WRDA bill would allow for full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). This is important because the inability to spend those dollars on much-needed harbor and port dredging has eroded the United States’ comparative transportation advantage and contributed to lost export opportunities. The NGFA will be urging that this policy change be included in the final WRDA package, as well. NGFA members can help keep the pressure up by utilizing the association’s advocacy tool.