Congress continues funding while House passes disaster bill

Congress on Dec. 21 passed and President Donald Trump on Dec. 22 signed into law a continuing resolution funding the government through Jan. 19, but only the House passed a disaster bill that would provide assistance to people affected by hurricanes and wildfires, and aid to cotton and dairy producers.

The Senate vote on the resolution was 66 to 32. Earlier the House had passed the bill by a vote of 231 to 188.

The resolution includes a provision exempting the tax bill from statutory Pay-As-You-Go rules that would have required cuts to farm program spending in 2018.

The House also voted 251 to 169 to pass the disaster bill that also declared seed cotton eligible for farm subsidies, repealed a limitation on crop insurance for livestock and set up a National Accuracy Clearinghouse that was expected to lead to a cut in spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But the Senate decided to wait until January to deal with disaster aid.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-MS, said, “This continuing resolution is necessary to ensure continued funding for our national defense and other important priorities. I hope senators will support its passage.

“This legislation includes provisions with strong bipartisan support in the Senate and House. It will extend important health care programs for veterans and children, strengthen U.S. missile defenses and preserve the tools used by the intelligence community to keep our country safe.

“It is imperative that the Congress use the next few weeks to reach an agreement on spending levels in order to finalize FY2018 appropriations. This new continuing resolution is a necessity, but it is the bare minimum. Congress must act promptly to provide adequate full-year funding for the Defense Department and other agencies.”

In addition to the continuing resolution, legislation was also approved to provide emergency supplemental appropriations to support response and recovery from recent hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters, though it wasn’t in the form of permanent funding.

“I will continue to work in the Senate to ensure that supplemental funding is provided to help communities recover,” Cochran said. “This continuing resolution is necessary to ensure continued funding for our national defense and other important priorities. I hope senators will support its passage.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-TX, praised the House passage of the disaster bill and urged senators to support it.

“The 2017 hurricane season was the most costly and damaging on record. The lasting impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria may have disappeared from daily news coverage, but they continue to weigh on millions of Americans, including our nation’s farm and ranch families who were already struggling under hard economic times,” Conaway said in a release.

“While we’ve made significant strides in developing a strong crop insurance system and standing disaster programs to aid farmers and ranchers when Mother Nature strikes, multiple, back-to-back, devastating disasters require us to address current backlogs in critical emergency recovery programs, improve standing disaster programs, and target assistance to address holes in the safety net, including for our nation’s citrus, cotton, livestock, dairy, fruit and vegetable, and other impacted producers.

“I applaud the House for its support of this package and call on my colleagues in the Senate to act without further delay in helping our struggling neighbors rebuild their lives and communities.”

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation said in a statement: “We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for taking steps to address the needs of dairy producers in the disaster aid package it approved Thursday. Thanks to the efforts of … Chairman … Conaway, with support from Ranking Member … Peterson, the House bill will eliminate the existing $20 million annual cap on the Livestock Gross Margin program, enabling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer coverage to more farmers in the current LGM program and provide new risk management options for dairy producers.

“As the bill moves forward, dairy farmers still badly need changes to the ineffective dairy Margin Protection Program, and we strongly urge the Senate to include such changes when it takes up the disaster bill. We support the efforts of Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, to include MPP improvements in the final supplemental spending bill.

“Combined, these actions can help pave the way for making final fixes to the dairy safety net program in the upcoming 2018 farm bill.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].

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