D.C. Watch: Congress faces daunting tasks in September

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Congress will face some pretty immediate problems when it returns to work from its August recess on Sept. 9. Funding for the government runs out at the end of September, and since Congress has failed to pass any appropriations bills this year, it will need to put together another “continuing resolution.”

But in the current contentious environment, even approving a “must-pass” bill like this may be difficult!

Once Congress deals with the end-of-year funding problem, the next must-pass legislation is yet another increase in the U.S. debt ceiling.

The Treasury Department has been using so-called extraordinary measures since mid-May to keep paying the government’s bills.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says the ability to meet our obligations without raising the debt ceiling will run out by mid-October.  The government makes about 80 million payments per month for obligations such as Social Security, military pay and Medicare.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he is gearing up for “a whale of a fight” and expects the debt ceiling will give him leverage to demand spending cuts and reforms that are bigger than the increase in the debt ceiling. We can expect political fireworks over the next couple of months.

So WHEN might Congress tackle the farm bill again?

The government funding and the debt ceiling issues will take center stage over the next few weeks, but the House is also expected to at least consider a bill that would reduce spending on nutrition programs by about $40 billion over 10 years.

That’s in USDA’s bailiwick.

 So if the House can pass a nutrition bill, we could see a conference committee start working on a comprehensive farm bill during September.

The current extension of the 2008 farm bill expires at the end of September, but expiration has almost no impact until January. Several members of the House from both parties have said they expect conference committee members to be named in the first week or two after Congress returns, with or without passage of a nutrition bill.

Other news from Washington:

  • USDA’s Rick Management Agency has announced a new Special Provision for the Prairie Pothole region that will clarify acreage eligibility for prevented planting in regions of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and the Dakotas. The new provisions will require that in order for acreage to be eligible for prevented planting payments – the acreage must have been planted and harvested in at least one of the last four years. And if the producer has been unable to plant and harvest certain acreage in at least one of the four most recent crop years the producer will need to demonstrate the land is at least “farmable” by planting and harvesting two years in a row. For more information, producers should contact their crop insurance agents. Prevented planting claims are a relatively common problem in North Dakota. The Farm Services Agency report showed that farmers filed prevented planting claims covering 2.4 million acres this year and farmers in Minnesota filed claims covering more almost 900,000 acres.
  • This week the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia heard arguments from lawyers representing parties that want to block USDA’s implementation of the revised country of origin labeling rules. Several groups that represent livestock and meat interests in the U.S. as well as those in Canada are trying to convince the court to grant an injunction against the new meat labeling rules scheduled to go into effect in November. The court has not yet ruled on the request.
  • This week USDA provided “final” data for 2012 U.S. farm financial statistics and updated the forecast for 2013. The new report shows income for 2011 at $126.8 billion, down $7.9 billion from the February report. Net cash farm income for 2012 was revised down from $135.6 billion in February to $134.4 billion this week. The new forecast puts net cash farm income for this year at $120.8 billion. Total cash receipts are down just modestly this year, $3.9 billion compared to the 2012 figure, but cash expenses are forecast to be $13.5 billion higher.

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