Congress

House stopgap bill would fund farm payments, health programs

The bill could move to the full House for floor consideration as early as Thursday

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., walks down the House steps after a vote on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. House Democrats unveiled a stopgap spending bill after ironing out last-minute disagreements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats unveiled a stopgap spending bill late Wednesday that runs through Nov. 21 after ironing out last-minute disagreements about payments to farmers hit by retaliatory tariffs.

The measure would reimburse the Commodity Credit Corporation for trade relief and other payments as of Sept. 17, so the agency doesn’t breach its $30 billion borrowing cap as it continues to send checks to farmers and ranchers.

In order to address Democrats’ concerns about the distribution of payments, the final language would require Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, by Oct. 31, to submit a report to lawmakers itemizing payments made under the program since it started up last year, and projections for next year. The report is to include information on payments broken out by commodity and specialty crop — such as cherries, grapes, cranberries and various types of nuts. State-by-state information would be required as well.

The provision would provide the CCC with roughly $20.5 billion to make more payments under the so-called Market Facilitation program, congressional aides said, shy of the $30 billion sought by the White House. 

Congressional aides said the replenishment would avoid cuts to farm aid programs covered by the fund well into the next fiscal year by preventing the fund from reaching its $30 billion borrowing limit.

Specialty crop producers would also benefit from a waiver of certain matching fund requirements for research grants in a new section added to the bill. Sugar beet processors would get some help as well, as would hemp growers, a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The House Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting for 9:30 a.m. Thursday to consider parameters for floor debate, with a vote scheduled for later in the day.

The stopgap measure is necessary because none of the dozen regular spending bills have become law yet. Congressional leaders and the White House didn’t agree on topline fiscal 2020 funding caps until late July, right before heading home for the August recess. Without President Donald Trump’s signature by midnight Sept. 30, the government would partially shut down

“This is a welcome development, and I will urge the Senate to take up this bill and pass it next week and allow the Committee more time to negotiate bipartisan bills to implement the bipartisan budget agreement reached in July,” Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said in a statement.

The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t start work on its own bills until last week, that panel’s latest start in 32 years — and it’s been a rocky one marked by unusual partisan disagreements over funding allocations and policy riders. The House passed 10 of its 12 bills, but at funding levels that hadn’t been agreed to by Republicans or the White House. 

The House’s stopgap measure also contains several new provisions, including a package of health care-related extensions of programs funding community health centers, teaching hospitals and more. U.S. territories would receive higher federal Medicaid matching funds, which was another provision negotiators had haggled over in recent days.

The Department of Veterans Affairs would be able to spend more quickly on programs serving Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. And the measure would increase a cap on the number of enrollees in the World Trade Center health program for first responders on Sept. 11, 2001.

House Democrats in their earlier draft declined to add White House add-ons that included authority to build border wall sections beyond the Rio Grande Valley, and funding to build a pavilion at the 2020 Dubai World Expo, which is barred under current law. Those requests were still not included. 

The White House and House Democrats had already agreed by last week in a draft bill that higher spending was needed for certain programs, including more money for the Census Bureau preparing for a decennial count in 2020, and the Secret Service’s ramped-up security as presidential candidates require additional protection. Those spending increases remained the same in the final text.

Language previously included in the draft to reverse action by Trump’s Office of Management and Budget that would have clamped down on certain foreign aid spending was removed. But language remains from the earlier draft that would ensure security assistance for Ukraine gets spent.

Lawmakers also continued authority through the length of the stopgap for the National Flood Insurance Program, Export-Import Bank, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and higher education programs.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.