House Democrats are weighing a short-term spending plan that could temporarily freeze the Trump administration’s trade relief payments to farmers.
The House Appropriations Committee is circulating among members a draft continuing resolution that leaves out language requested by the White House to ensure that the Agriculture Department can continue distributing checks to farmers and ranchers burned by President Donald Trump’s trade war.
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“The American people deserve a robust debate on the costs of the Trump trade war,” committee spokesperson Evan Hollander confirmed in an email. “The clean CR that House Democrats have circulated avoids partisan controversy, keeps the government open, and provides time for Congress to debate the trade war.”
Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution this month to keep the government open after Sept. 30, when fiscal 2019 ends and current funding expires. Similar to last year, White House budget officials have asked lawmakers to include a provision in the bill that would keep the Commodity Credit Corporation from breaching its $30 billion borrowing limit in the coming months under the strain of the tariff relief payments.
The trade aid money is paid out of the CCC, a Depression-era agency within USDA. USDA has so far paid $3.3 billion out of the $14.5 billion set aside for farm payments for 2019. The agency sent $8.6 billion in direct payments for last year’s production.
The financial demands of those aid programs, in addition to CCC’s regular obligations, have left the agency with dwindling room to keep borrowing. That could put additional trade aid payments at risk of being cut off by the end of the year unless Congress acts.
Various lawmakers have criticized of USDA’s trade aid program but haven’t ever taken steps to block payouts. Agricultural producers have borne the brunt of retaliation from China since Trump launched his tariff fight with Beijing in 2018.
Government support for farmers, including trade aid, is one of the biggest factors propping up farmers’ net income in 2019, after five years of decline.
Hollander said the continuing resolution being circulated is not final and could be changed before it’s filed or voted on.
The House is expected to vote next week on the short-term stopgap. The Senate would also need to approve the bill, and Trump will ultimately have to sign it, so it’s unclear if a CR that doesn’t ensure payments can continue could become law.
House Appropriations Chairman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that the committee is still “putting the finishing touches” on the spending bill, and there are “a couple of issues that are still being discussed.”
“This is not an issue that’s been my responsibility right now,” Lowey said of the trade aid provision. “There are many discussions going on, and we hope to keep this bill as clean as possible.”
The Washington Post first reported the Democrats’ potential plan on Thursday.
Megan Cassella contributed to this report.