Stopgap funding back on track, House vote possible Tuesday night

Deadline for presidential signature on continuing resolution is in eight days

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says he's OK with more nutrition payments in exchange for farm aid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says he's OK with more nutrition payments in exchange for farm aid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 22, 2020 at 11:17am, Updated at 4:21pm

Discussions were underway Tuesday afternoon to resurrect a bipartisan stopgap funding deal including farm and nutrition aid that had been in dispute, with a House vote possible as early as later in the evening.

The rejuvenated talks came after House leaders abruptly delayed plans for a floor vote Tuesday on a partisan short-term funding bill that lacked the Commodity Credit Corporation funds sought by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

House Democrats had also dropped an extension of the Pandemic EBT program, which provides food to low-income children who otherwise aren't able to get school meals.

"I think we've made some progress and I'm hopeful that we may be able to vote tonight," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday afternoon. He said the vote would likely be on an amended version of the bill House leaders had to pull from the floor schedule earlier in the day.

"I don't want to get into specifics until we have it hammered out," Hoyer said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who's been negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said she "hopes" to vote Tuesday night. "We'll have an announcement soon," she said.

A stopgap bill must be signed into law by Sept. 30 to avoid a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins. None of the dozen regular appropriations bills for fiscal 2021 will be completed in time.

Earlier Tuesday after the floor schedule change, a House Democratic aide confirmed that lawmakers were “trying to reach the broadest possible agreement on agriculture and nutrition provisions.”

[Partisan stopgap funding bill set for House vote Tuesday]

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was set to meet with his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, on Tuesday to discuss a compromise that could include other farm and nutrition programs, including possibly more money for food stamps. "I think we can work that out," he said.

The movement comes after pushback from farm-state Democrats against party leaders' move to strip the CCC funds. The administration says without replenishment in the CR, the agency could hit its $30 billion borrowing cap and be unable to make payments under 2018 farm bill programs.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated last week that once October payments were made, resources would dry up without further action from Congress.

The House Agriculture Committee's top Republican, K. Michael Conaway of Texas, tried to offer an amendment that would restore both the farm payments and the school nutrition program extension, but was blocked by Rules Committee Democrats.

"This is cash flow to mom and pop businesses all over rural America," Conaway said Tuesday. "They've been expecting these payments for a year … they come like clockwork. This year should be no different."

The minority is allowed to offer a "motion to recommit" during floor debate, which if adopted would add provisions included in the motion to the underlying bill as if it were a regular amendment. Republicans weren't saying what their motion would entail, but the Conaway amendment or something like it would be eligible.

That prospect contributed to the restart of negotiations, since if put to a vote on the floor, such a GOP-backed motion could potentially attract support from farm-state Democrats, such as Iowa Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne. The freshman lawmakers, who flipped Republican-held seats in 2018 and face tough reelection fights, signed a letter to congressional leaders this week urging them to restore the CCC funds.

On Tuesday, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., another freshman who knocked off a GOP incumbent two years ago, tweeted that taking farm spending authority out of the stopgap was a "partisan move that slows down much-needed relief for farmers and agribusinesses." 

Stabenow said Monday that the farm money has been used as a “slush fund” for favored political interests, including oil refiners.

Other Democrats had also picked up on that talking point after Reuters reported earlier this month that the Trump administration had considered diverting up to $300 million in CCC funds to refiners who were denied waivers from costly renewable fuels quotas. Reuters reported late Monday that the tentative plan had been shelved.

Roberts said he didn't know anything about such a plan. "There’s nothing that we can find in there for Big Oil, or small oil, or anything," he said.

Lindsey McPherson, Paul M. Krawzak and Doug Sword contributed to this report.