WASHINGTON — U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., is proposing to block the White House request over its farm bailout program, according to a draft of legislation reviewed by the Washington Post, potentially imperiling President Donald Trump’s ability to direct payments to thousands of farmers.
A key Republican responded by attacking the Democrat’s move, saying it could threaten passage of a key bill needed to avoid a government shutdown. The bailout has emerged as one of several unresolved issues that lawmakers still need to sort out to meet a deadline by the end of this month.
The bailout program was created last year amid complaints from agriculture groups that China had stopped purchasing their crops in retaliation for new tariffs that the White House imposed on Chinese imports. Trump has ordered that billions of dollars in taxpayer funds be paid directly to farmers to offset their losses.
The bailout hadn’t needed congressional approval up to this point, but now the timing of the payments is tied to congressional approval.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to spend upward of $28 billion in payments over two years, but the Depression-era program Trump is using for the program has a $30 billion borrowing limit that they are expected to hit this year before the completion of a second round of payments.
If Congress does not act, then some of the bailout money Trump has promised farmers could not be paid on the administration’s timeline. A USDA spokesman said that the money still would go out, but that the timing of the program could be affected.
In new legislation to fund the government into November, Lowey left out the White House request that would allow them to avert the $30 billion spending cap they are expected to hit this fall in the program being used to fund the bailout. As head of the appropriations committee, she has broad power to decide what is included in any spending bill. And lawmakers from both parties are under pressure to pass a new spending bill in the next few weeks, or they will risk a government shutdown Oct. 1.
Republicans suggested they might not agree to fund the government if it leaves the bailout issue unresolved. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., chair of the Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, said Republicans would not accept any limits on the farm credit program while the trade dispute is underway.
“Farmers have been hurt; the U.S. government is appropriately responding,” he said. “It’s not clear to me whether or not this is a negotiating tactic by our friends on the other side, but I do think it’s important for America that this be resolved.”
Lawmakers from both parties are hopeful they can pass the stopgap spending bill and then continue negotiating a longer-term agreement.
Lowey’s legislation is an initial proposal that is expected to change.
Evan Hollander, a spokesman for Lowey, said in a statement Thursday: “The American people deserve a robust debate on the costs of the Trump trade war. The clean (continuing resolution) that House Democrats have circulated will keep the government open and provide time for Congress to have that debate.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said in a brief interview that the agreement to keep the government open would include “clean” measures agreed to by both parties.
“I am going to be talking to (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell. But we do not intend to put anything into it that we think is controversial,” Hoyer said.
Lowey added that the bill still is being worked on and that there “are many discussions going on,” but that Democrats “hope to keep this bill as clean as possible.”
A number of Democrats are sympathetic to complaints from farmers in key states, particularly in the Upper Midwest, but there are growing signs that agriculture groups are pinning blame squarely on the White House for the continued uncertainty.
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Close to three in 10 farmers feel the bailout payments will “not at all” make up for losses related to the tariff battle this year, according to an index calculated by Purdue University released this month. But about 70 percent said the bailout would either “completely or somewhat relieve” their concerns about the tariffs.