By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Farmers should not expect any delays in USDA programs such as the trade-aid payments coming from Commodity Credit Corporation funds, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee told DTN on Wednesday.
"It's taken care of," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
A political dispute over funding the $30 billion Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) funds blew up last week after it was reported the House Appropriations Committee short-term funding bill for the government -- a continuing resolution -- would not include an extension of CCC funds, which the Trump administration has used for $28 billion in Market Facilitation Program payments over the past two years.
Peterson said it made no sense to delay the funding to farmers. "So you are going to hold up the money for two months and piss everybody off?" he said.
The CCC fund risks becoming short of cash if Congress doesn't greenlight new fund availability before Oct. 1. The continuing resolution would waive restrictions on the use of the fund until USDA is fully funded under a full fiscal-year appropriations bill. The money still would come, but likely be delayed.
The continuing resolution, much like it was last year, is tied up again because of funding for Puerto Rico -- this time due to a Medicaid situation, Peterson said. So, for now, the only reason the CCC funds would not be available is if the continuing resolution fails to pass and the federal government shuts down as a result, he said.
Senate Democrats on Thursday also threatened to block their version of the spending bill over funding for President Donald Trump's border wall.
Peterson credited Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, chairman of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, for drafting a letter Peterson and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, signed earlier this week that brought the issue to the attention of leadership.
"Vela was the one who did most of the work," Peterson said.
Several other Democrats on the Agriculture Committee also issued news releases earlier this week calling on leadership to approve the CCC funding.
Republicans made a political issue out of the possible delay in CCC funds, Peterson said.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, issued another statement Wednesday criticizing Democratic leadership over the CCC issue.
Conaway said House Democratic leaders are not listening to their members who have called for funding the USDA programs. He indicated there was no assurance the CCC funds would be in the continuing resolution bill.
Conaway said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., should "stop using our nation's farmers and ranchers and rural communities as pawns in your fight with the president. Fully fund USDA so it can do its job. It is no surprise that China would try to hold our farmers and ranchers hostage so it could continue to cheat on its trade commitments, but we should not expect the leaders of the United States House of Representatives to use rural America as a bargaining chip."
A spokeswoman for another Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee told DTN that Pelosi had assured the congressman that the language renewing the CCC funds would be in the continuing resolution.
At least some Democrats remain opposed to funding the CCC early. The MFP payments were created largely in response to the trade dispute between the U.S. and China that caused China to impose retaliatory tariffs against agricultural products and stopping the sale of U.S. commodities to China.
"There are people in our caucus who don't like this because they think Trump created this problem," Peterson said. "And now he's using government money to buy peace, and he is. We don't agree with this totally, but the farmers need the money."
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., criticized the CCC at a news conference on farmers and the Green New Deal. DeFazio said he had been in a "maddening" leadership meeting "and how they want to dump $30 billion in that bill for corporate agriculture."
DeFazio said he was listening to a discussion among leadership working on the funding issue and offered his opinion.
"They are still dithering around," DeFazio told DTN. "They have not come to an agreement. I've already expressed very strong concern about this."
"The House members know the CCC has to be replenished as it always has been," Perdue said. "I think while we are perfectly willing to be transparent about how these funds are being used and any kind of information the appropriators need, they don't want to be seen as denying farmers the access to the ARC and PLC payments that are needed this fall, as well as the Market Facilitation Program. We're happy to work with them and give them any information. Nothing is being done behind the curtain. We're willing to be transparent in all of those things."
Congress put limitations on the use of CCC funds under the Obama administration when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack approved using CCC funds for disaster aid in Southern states, mainly Arkansas, in fall 2010 as then-Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, was in the middle of tough campaign fight she would eventually lose.
Congress then began waiving the limitation on CCC funds once the Trump administration took office, allowing $30 billion available any time of the year without restrictions.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
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