The House Agriculture Committee marked up Friday into the evening its portion of new ag funding under the agriculture committee’s jurisdiction of what would be included in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that Congress hopes to pass in the upcoming weeks. Members from both sides of the aisle expressed concerns on the process, including lack of details of the estimated $94 billion in new spending, including an $89.1 billion increase in deficit spending. The final vote is scheduled now for Monday morning at 8 a.m.
After many technical difficulties and delays to assure members could vote virtually, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., called for a recess after nine hours of debate of the markup. He says a final vote on the remaining 30 amendments, and the bill as a whole, would not come until sometime early in the week of September 13. On Saturday morning, the committee officially announced the remaining votes would occur at 8 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 13. Although very few votes were called during the markup, the clear partisan breakdown of support was evident across all introductions of amendments to preserve a party line consensus.
In opening up the committee’s markup, Scott says specifically, the bill invests $7.75 billion in ag research and infrastructure; $18 billion for access to clean water in rural America and investments in renewable energy; and $40 billion in forestry programs. However, the markup did not address the estimated $28 billion in conservation funding and climate-smart agriculture investments as the Congressional Budget Office continues to estimate what proposals would cost.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who is chair of the subcommittee on conservation and forestry, posed significant concerns that the committee was proceeding on marking up the bill without details of the $28 billion in conservation spending. She says she introduced and advocated for many of the components of what is expected to be in the final package.
“The idea we’re marking it up without having this particular piece is a challenge. I wish we had delayed this markup until we had full components ready for us to discuss at length,” Spanberger says of the conservation spending provisions.
As Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., notes, the over $90 billion in new proposed spending was written without any oversight hearings or listening sessions on these proposals. He says for the 2018 Farm Bill, which allocates nearly the same amount of total spending, the committee hosted almost 100 hearings with a real bipartisan debate to fine-tune the policy. He notes with the closely divided House and Senate, Congress should work to “thread the needle” for the half on the left with the other half on the right.
Republicans on the committee tried unsuccessfully to table the markup until September 20 or at least additional time to understand fully the tax pay-fors to fund the provisions as well as the conservation funding making up the nearly one-third in new spending.
Scott says he’s led efforts in sounding the alarm on the impact of tax changes to farmers in sending a letter to the White House to ensure that the increase in spending is not paid for by changing the stepped-up basis or estate taxes for family farms. “My hope that we will not have it in there,” Scott says, also promising to continue to advocate for farmers until final passage.
Hundreds of state and federal agricultural organizations have joined different coalition letters urging Congress to preserve important tax provisions including stepped-up basis, like-kind exchanges (1031 exchanges), Section 199A small business deductions and current estate tax provisions utilized by farmers.
Another amendment from Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., to offer a “sense of the committee in opposition to tax increase on farmers, ranchers and small businesses” did not advance. Scott warns the amendment might “throw off” the delicate negotiations.
“We’ve got to be very careful as you’re moving and navigating in choppy waters that we do not disrupt negotiations going forward,” the chairman says.
A separate attempt at preserving the stepped-up basis for farmers also found only republican support.
Another early amendment by Ranking Member Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., attempted to replace the provisions with funding for rural broadband and expansion of WHIP+. Earlier this summer, the House Agriculture advanced by a voice vote the two separate packages.
It was confirmed during the hearing that Scott is working to include the funding for those programs through a potential continuing resolution and the appropriations process, which also may include authorization for Congress to increase the debt ceiling.
Johnson also introduced an amendment to appropriate $75 million to provide funds in efforts to protect against domestic introduction of African swine fever and foreign animal diseases. Although it found voice support from democrats, it was unable to achieve any votes in favor of the amendment. Johnson, who serves as the livestock subcommittee ranking member, did receive assurances from his counterpart, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., on the livestock subcommittee to hold a hearing in October or November on how to protect the U.S. hog herd from ASF.
In opening comments, Johnson also criticized the committee for not addressing the Livestock Mandatory Reporting reauthorization which expires at the end of September.
Although the $28 billion was not known at time of markup, significant dollars are being funneled to ag research and wildfire prevention. Click here for the legislative text of the bill, including funding allocations.
Biofuel groups praised the new bill language which provides for $960 million to install, retrofit, or otherwise upgrade fuel dispensers or pumps and related equipment, storage tank system components, and other infrastructure required to ensure the availability of fuel containing greater than 10% ethanol and fuel containing greater than 20% biodiesel.
The bill also provides additional money for the Rural Energy for American Program or REAP with $811 million for fiscal year 2022 through September 2031 and another $272 million beginning in 2023.
On the wildfire front, the reconciliation package $4 billion for hazardous fuels reduction projects where wildlands and urban areas interface; $1 billion for vegetation management on National Forest System land and another $500 million for vegetation management. Another significant investment comes in the form of $2.25 billion to be used to develop a Civilian Climate Corps for the managing of the National Forest System.
For climate change research, the bill provides the Agricultural Research Service $250 million for 2022 to carry out agricultural research on climate change, to the Economic Research Service $45 million for 2022; to the office of the Chief Economist $3.2 million from 2022 to 2026 to carry out economic analysis and economic agricultural research relating to climate change; to the National Agricultural Statistics Service for $40 million for data and collection related to climate change and $14 million for NAA and to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture a total of $175 million through the crop protection pest management competitive grant program. Another $20 million is provided through the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative.
The reconciliation bill also provides $2.66 billion for grants for construction, alteration, acquisition, modernization, renovation or remodeling of agricultural research facilities.