November arrived in full force inside the beltway. At this time of year, theatrics in Washington feature sporadic chilly days, fallen orange foliage and empty tree branches, and dark skies by 5 p.m. These were all once again on full display but were relegated to a supporting cast, as this November featured a new lead actor: U.S. Representative Mike Johnson – the new Speaker of the House.
In late October, Rep. Johnson (R-LA) was elected as the 56th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, allowing the House to finally resume legislative business. The rest of the country may have turned back the clocks this month, but the clocks in the halls of Congress kept on ticking (louder and louder) as the lengthy delay put Congress up against several important deadlines.
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AVERTED (TAKE 2), FARM BILL EXTENDED
Speaker Johnson was sworn in on October 25, after three weeks of legislative business on hold. With the House up and running again, the first order of business for the new speaker has been the fiscal year 2024 (FY24) appropriations process, as the November 17 government funding deadline approached.
As part of his pitch to the House Republican Conference in the race for speaker, Johnson outlined an ambitious legislative timeline, which included another stopgap funding bill that would last into 2024. Johnson’s proposal also called for passing a farm bill in December, but as the vacancy dragged on, prospects for a new farm bill by year’s end rapidly dwindled.
Behind the scenes, talks of extending the 2018 Farm Bill (which expired on September 30, 2023) were underway and quickly accelerated. By early November, all four leaders (the “Four Corners”) of the House and Senate agriculture committees had individually called for a year-long extension of the 2018 Farm Bill. On November 12, the Four Corners announced they had reached an agreement on an extension, while renewing their commitment to passing a 5-year farm bill in the next year.
That same weekend, Speaker Johnson released a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government into early 2024. The CR funds the government at current FY23 levels and contains no spending cuts. The CR also included a full-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill through September 30, 2024, and funds farm bill “orphan” programs, which are not included in the baseline and require farm bill action to continue operating.
NFU President Rob Larew issued the following statement upon final passage:
NFU is encouraged by the strong bipartisan support for an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill. Now we urge Congress to channel that success toward getting a new farm bill done in a timely fashion. Family farmers and ranchers must have clarity about the status of farm programs to make informed planting and business decisions heading into the next growing season, and an extension accomplishes that in the short term. We will continue working to craft and pass a five-year farm bill that provides strong support for family farmers, ranchers, and our communities.
A unique and uncommon aspect of the CR is the two-tiered or “laddered” approach to extending current funding levels. Four of the appropriations bills have their funding extended through January 19, 2024, including for agencies covered by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills. The remaining eight spending bills run through February 2.
On November 14, the House passed the CR by a vote of 336-95. Most Republicans and nearly all Democrats voted in favor, with the largest opposition block being the House Freedom Caucus. The next day, late in the evening, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 87-11. On November 16, President Biden signed the measure into law, officially averting a government shutdown and extending the 2018 Farm Bill.
In the House, Republicans remain mired in disagreement over several of their FY24 appropriations bills. The fissures among House Republicans on funding and policy create a daunting path forward for Speaker Johnson, as he seeks to navigate the January and February funding deadlines established in the CR. This dynamic could also make passing a farm bill in the first quarter of 2024 more difficult, especially when paired with ongoing disagreements regarding how to fund competing farm bill priorities.
USDA FINALIZES FIRST IN SERIES OF PACKERS AND STOCKYARDS ACT RULES
On November 8, USDA announced a final rule that will bring greater transparency to poultry contracting and tournaments. The rule’s finalization, the first of several recently proposed rules to strengthen and modernize the Packers and Stockyards Act (P&S Act), is an important milestone in USDA’s and the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to promote greater competition throughout the food system.
The final rule requires large poultry integrators to provide existing and prospective contract poultry growers with a disclosures document needed for growers to make informed business decisions before signing a contract with an integrator. The rule also requires poultry dealers to disclose earnings for growers by quintile, establish minimum flock placements, and explain variable costs growers may incur, as well as how companies handle extenuating circumstances, such as sick flocks or natural disasters.
Furthermore, the rule requires dealers to provide tournament-specific disclosures of inputs to poultry growers who are paid using a grower ranking system and requires company disclosure of the distribution of inputs, housing specifications, and feed disruptions for all growers in a tournament at the time of payment. USDA also assures growers will not be disclosed to protect their privacy.
NFU has urged USDA to swiftly finalize its outstanding P&S Act rules. These include the “Inclusive Competition and Market Integrity” rule – currently in the final review stage – which seeks to identify unlawfully deceptive and retaliatory practices under the P&S Act. Two additional rules have been proposed, one of which addresses problematic practices related to poultry grower payment systems and capital improvement programs, payment disparities, and transparency concerns related to capital investments. The other seeks to provide greater clarity regarding P&S Act violations to protect livestock and poultry producers from anticompetitive conduct and better enable producers to demonstrate harm to competition.
The U.S. House’s FY24 agriculture appropriations bill, which failed on the House floor in September, includes a provision to prevent USDA from completing these rules. NFU has urged lawmakers to reject this provision to ensure updates to P&S Act enforcement and modernization can be completed.
WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCES LANDMARK INVESTMENTS TO SUPPORT RURAL AMERICA
On November 1, President Biden traveled to Northfield, MN to highlight investments from the President’s “Investing in America” agenda. The event took place at Minnesota Farmers Union member Brad Kluver’s Dutch Creek Farms.
The President announced $5 billion in rural investments, covering rural infrastructure, economic development, sustainability, and climate-smart agricultural practices.
Programs included in President Biden’s announcement include:
- $1.7 Billion in Investments in Climate-Smart Agriculture.
- $1.1 Billion in Investments in Rural American Infrastructure.
- $2 Billion in Investments to Partner with Rural Communities to Create Jobs and Support Rural-led Economic Development.
- $274 Million to Expand Critical Rural High-Speed Internet Infrastructure.
- $145 Million to Expand Access to Renewable Energy and Lower Energy Costs for Rural Americans.
The investments for climate-smart agriculture include an unprecedented $1.1 billion investment across 81 projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), to expand the reach of voluntary conservation efforts and climate-smart agriculture through public-private partnerships. Another $600 million will be thrust into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
In his remarks, President Biden highlighted the threats corporate consolidation in the food system pose to farmers, ranchers, and consumers, and discussed actions his administration is taking to promote competition in the American economy.
NFU appreciates the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing commitment to promote competition in agricultural markets, the core tenet of NFU’s Fairness for Farmers campaign and will continue working with the administration to deliver results.