No Progress on Farm Bill as Congress Works into the Weekend to Avoid Government Shutdown
Little progress was made this week on the Farm Bill following a partisan nutrition vote in the House of Representatives last week. The House is anticipated to vote as soon as this weekend on a plan to combine the separate farm policy bill and nutrition bill into one piece of legislation to be sent to the Senate.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had previously indicated his intent to name conference committee members in the House, but given the wide differences between House and Senate legislation, particularly on nutrition policy, that action may be delayed. The House last week approved a three-year nutrition bill that would strip $40 billion from programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and that would make reforms such as tightening work requirements for recipients. The Senate has passed a five-year bill with $4 billion in nutrition cuts. Such wide differences between the two bills will make for a difficult conference committee to create a final agreement.
Many conservation programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program and the Chesapeake Bay program expire on October 1. The remaining conservation programs, including the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, have only one more year of authorization.
With activity on the Farm Bill moving in starts and stops, Congress is also working to avoid a federal government shutdown after the fiscal year ends next Monday, September 30. The Senate approved legislation today by a vote of 54-44 to keep federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), funded at fiscal year 2013 levels until November 15. The Senate held a series of votes Friday, including a vote to strip contentious House language that would defund the Affordable Care Act. The bill will be sent back to the House for its consideration, which is expected to occur sometime over the weekend.
What If The Government Actually Shuts Down?
In the event that Congress does not prevent a government shutdown, what will happen next week to USDA programs related farmland conservation? If agreement is not reached, many USDA agencies and programs will be dramatically affected. USDA has protocol in place for agencies to shut down including the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Some agency activities would continue which are necessary to protect life and property, necessary to begin phase down of other activities, and are “excepted” from shutdown procedures, such as:
- Engineering and construction inspection services, as well as auditing and scheduling of payments for contracts and grants are excepted activities to the extent carryover funds allow.
- Maintain federally owned facilities, buildings, equipment, and other physical property, including plant, tree and shrub stock at Plant Materials Centers funded and operated by NRCS.
- Excepted positions and support of excepted personnel for shutdown activities (as needed).
NRCS estimates that it would take the agency five days to complete orderly shutdown procedures.