The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) said on Thursday that a draft conference report for a Farm Bill could be ready by next week and there could be floor action by January 27. There has been an impasse regarding dairy policy in the farm bill, but lawmakers say that issue is close to being resolved.
Several other snags remain, but lawmakers appeared increasingly optimistic that the long battle to pass a new farm bill might be coming to a close.
The FY14 omnibus (H.R. 3547) does not provide funding for the Payments In Lieu of Taxes program, which makes payments to local governments who cannot collect property taxes from nontaxable government-held land. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has assured his colleagues that he will include funding for the program in the farm bill.
However, dairy policy and payment limits on farm subsidies remain the most critical issues, and if Lucas and his Senate counterpart, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), can cut deals now, they will be in far better shape when lawmakers return at the end of January.
The Senate on Thursday voted 72-26 to approve the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill, sending it to the White House for President Obama’s signature and avoiding another government shutdown. On Wednesday, the House voted 359-67 to pass the omnibus bill; with 64 no votes coming from Republicans who argued that it spends too much money.
The package includes all 12 of the annual appropriations measures and does not include any continuing resolutions. The omnibus sets discretionary spending for FY14 at the December budget deal agreed upon level of $1.012 trillion, which is $25.7 million more than the $986.3 billion discretionary spending level set for FY13 and $45 million more than the $967 billion level set for FY14 under the sequester.
The bill provides $20.9 billion for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; $51.6 billion for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; $572.6 billion for Defense; $34.1 billion for Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies; $21.85 billion for Financial Services and General Government; $39.3 billion for Homeland Security; $30.1 billion for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; $156.8 billion for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; $4.26 billion for the Legislative Branch; $73.3 billion for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies; $49 billion for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies; and $50.9 billion for Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.
The Senate Appropriations Committee press release can be found here and the House Appropriations subcommittee summaries here. Also, please find attached to the e-mail bearing this report, a summary document of the FY14 Omnibus prepared by the House Appropriations Committee.
Several members of Congress announced this week that they plan on retiring this year. They are as follows:
· Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
· Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA)
· Congressman Bill Owens (D-NY)
· Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA)
· Congressman George Miller (D-CA)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss the prospects of producing a Highway Bill this year. The current authorization (P.L. 112-141) expires at the end of September, and Committee members are hoping to bring a bill to conference before then.
The biggest issue facing lawmakers on the panel is how to fund a new bill in light of lagging motor vehicle tax receipts, however there is also the issue of just how broad the bill should be. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the fund, which has been dependent on fuel taxes that haven’t increased since 1993, will be unable to cover its obligations beginning in early fiscal 2015. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation late last year (H.R. 3636) to raise the gas tax, which could potentially be a solution to the issue.
With the passage of the omnibus (H.R. 3547), the odds for a conference agreement on legislation authorizing Army Corps of Engineers water projects have increased since the bill increases disbursements from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by $1 billion.
The money, collected in annual user fees, has been held back to help reduce the budget deficit, leaving about $700 million in the trust fund available for port projects. Releasing the remainder could help conferees who have been trying since November to bridge the gap between a $5.7 billion Senate water resources bill (S. 601) and the House’s $3.1 billion counterpart (H.R. 3080).
The omnibus also codifies a new cost-sharing agreement for the long-delayed Olmsted lock and dam project on the Ohio River, leaving another federal trust fund for inland waterways on the hook for just 25 percent of ongoing project costs. That decision has the effect of freeing up tens of millions of dollars for other projects that have been delayed because of Olmsted’s decades-long cost overruns.
Differences that still need to be reconciled include deciding how Army Corps projects are selected, and deciding whether to allow the administration to pursue an ocean management plan aimed at reconciling fishing, recreation and offshore energy interests.
The House and Senate have both adjourned and will be in recess next week in recognition of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of January 27-31.