Final Days of the 115th Congress: What it Means for Your Farm Today and Beyond

Ben final

Ben Rowe, National Affairs Coordinator

As we enter the final days of 2018, we are also into the “lame duck session” and final days of the 115th Congress. Although the working days are limited, the list of outstanding legislative issues is lengthy and contains several issues of importance to your farm and the agriculture industry as a whole. Let’s walk through the priority issues still outstanding, and how they may impact your operation.

Farm Bill

The largest bill still outstanding is, of course, the 2018 farm bill. As of this writing, the farm bill has emerged from the conference committee under a tentative agreement as we await final cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. This is good news for farmers amid a prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy and we thank Chairmen Roberts and Conaway and Ranking Members Stabenow and Peterson for making the bill a priority for this Congress.

Signing the new farm bill into law will guarantee your operation continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs. within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers. These programs help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face. VAFB and AFBF continue to work with both houses of Congress to approve this bill once it is finalized by House and Senate ag leaders.

Funding the Government

As we have seen several times in recent years, Congress is capable of using the federal budget as a negotiating tool through the threat of government shutdown. Congress has been approaching the December 7th deadline to act on seven currently outstanding appropriations bills, to avoid a partial government shutdown. Following the death of former President George H.W. Bush, lawmakers postponed a series of votes for his memorials and funeral. The two-week stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, would extend current funding levels and make December 21st the new deadline for reaching a long-term spending deal. The agreement also extends the deadline for funding the National Flood Insurance Program. December 21st is a very achievable goal, but there are still concerns that the President will veto the bill if it does not include funding for a border wall.

You may ask yourself why the shutdown would only be “partial.” Earlier in 2018, lawmakers passed several new spending bills for important areas such as defense, education, energy, and veterans affairs, so those affiliated agencies and programs are funded for FY 2019. However, Congress didn’t finish the other seven appropriations bills before the midterms, so they are in the previously mentioned short-term continuing resolution set to expire in December. These bills include funding for the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, HUD, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, and, of course, Agriculture. Many of the agencies and services most critical to the agriculture industry are funded on the continuing resolution, and securing a new spending bill allows those agencies to make long-term plans to serve America’s farmers.

Seed Cotton Program

December is a deadline not only for Congress to pass a budget but for cotton growers to make a big decision on commodity coverage. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 made cotton producers eligible for Title I farm programs by designating seed cotton as a covered commodity. Cotton producers with generic base acres who want to participate in the Agriculture Risk Coverage or Price Loss Coverage programs for the 2018 crop year must submit applications by the December deadline.

If you have detailed questions on the programs available to you, please visit the updated AFBF Market Intel page on seed cotton coverage. Also, visit www.fsa.usda.gov or your local FSA office for information about FSA and the 2014 Farm Bill programs and programs impacted by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.

Looking Towards 2019 and the 116th Congress: Securing Trade & Resolving Tariffs

If you have kept up with the news this past week, you know that President Trump joined representatives from 19 other countries for the G20 summit in Argentina. The attendees discussed everything from climate change to human rights issues, but the meetings between President Trump and his counterparts in Canada, China, and Mexico captured our attention.

Let’s start with the November 30th meeting between President Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and Mexican President Pena Nieto. The three North American leaders met to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) set to replace NAFTA. U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland and Mexican Economy Secretary Guajardo, the lead negotiators of the agreement, also signed protocol documents.

The USMCA will now have to be passed by the legislatures of all three countries to become effective.

The 116th U.S. Congress will consider the USMCA once the Administration submits the implementing legislation. This will occur after other requirements, such as required reports about the economic impacts of the agreement, under the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (TPA) are fulfilled in early 2019. The current NAFTA continues in force until it is replaced by the new USMCA.

The next day, December 1st, we saw a meeting between President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China. Discussions and negotiations between the two leaders have resulted in a commitment by the U.S. to suspend any additional tariffs on imports from China for ninety days. The scheduled tariff increases from the current 10% on $200 billion worth of imports to 25% on January 1, 2019, will be postponed, however, the current tariff levels will continue. The ninety-day period is to allow for negotiations between the two countries on the issues of forced technology transfer by U.S. companies doing business in China; intellectual property protection; barriers to access to Chinese markets; services and agriculture.

In return, China has agreed to import more U.S. goods, but has not defined the volume or dollar amount of these potential purchases, or indicated that they will be agricultural. Regardless, this is a step in the right direction to normalizing trade with China.

Moving Forward

VAFB continues to work with our colleagues within AFBF and the Virginia Congressional Delegation on these issues, and many others including: H2A rule changes and comprehensive labor reform, disaster relief, renewable fuels, tax reform, and many others. We appreciate your feedback and involvement as members.

To stay up-to-date with our activities and ways you can participate, I encourage you to sign up for our text-based action alert system. Simply text “VAFB” to 52886 to sign up.

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