Each year, Congress must pass funding legislation prior to September 30, 2021, to avoid a government shutdown. And while this deadline is no surprise to members of Congress, they typically pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep spending at current levels for a couple months while they continue to engage in discussion around spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
This year was no exception. On September 30, Congress passed a CR to fund the government through December 3, 2021. We were pleased to see that this legislation included $10 billion for the WHIP+ program to cover losses from natural disasters in 2020 and 2021 and ensures USDA can continue its livestock price reporting system.
There was a time when passing a CR was the biggest hurdle, but this year things look a little different. In August, the Senate passed a historic infrastructure package that included significant investments in rural broadband, water infrastructure, wildfire mitigation, road, and bridges. Modernizing America’s transportation has been a priority for the Farm Bureau for years, and this bill accomplishes much of what we have been advocating for. These investments are necessary and, in many cases, overdue. This infrastructure package will enhance the efficient and cost-effective transport of agricultural and food products resulting in substantial contributions and opportunities for U.S. economic growth and trade.
When this package was sent forward to the House, many progressive Democrats believed that it did not do enough while Conservatives believed that it did too much. Understanding that the fate of the package rested on negotiations with leaders in the House, Speaker Pelosi set a date of September 27th to vote on the infrastructure package. September 27th has come and gone, and yet we still see no progress on passing the infrastructure package in the House. Conversations have been overshadowed by the budget reconciliation package.
So, what is this $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package? Congress is currently working through reconciliation which provides for an expedited process to consider legislation that will change current law to affect one or more of: current spending, the debt limit, deficits, and tax revenue. It creates a privileged vehicle in the Senate that only requires a simple majority to pass and is not subject to the filibuster.
While the reconciliation package, commonly referred to as the Build Back Better Act, may include opportunities to increase funding for conservation programs, agriculture research and other important farm policy programs, there are many concerning proposals in this package as well. Many of the proposals, if implemented, could set back American agriculture for generations to come. As the country and economy begin to regain their footing, lawmakers should not undermine the long-term risk management tools agriculture depends on or raise taxes on the backs of the farmers and ranchers who grow the safe, sustainable food supply we all rely on.
At this point, negotiations are still underway to determine the final price tag and pay-fors. Farm Bureau is engaging in discussions with Arizona’s delegation on the estate tax and protecting stepped up basis, like-kind exchanges, and special valuation for agricultural land. Concurrently, we are stressing the importance of passing the well-rounded infrastructure package that would provide much needed investments in water infrastructure in the West.