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February 6th, 2019

D.C. Update: USDA Reopen After Partial Government Shutdown, New Ag Committee Assignments

The major news for most of the month of January was the partial government shutdown, which impacted the Department of Agriculture and lasted until Jan. 25. The results of the shutdown included a slow start to implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill and delays in the release of national agricultural data. However, the 116th Congress has moved forward with appointing members to committees, including many new members to the House Agriculture Committee.

Longest Partial Government Shutdown Ends

As described in last month’s DC Update, the federal government partially shut down in late December due to a lack of agreement on border wall funding. The USDA was among the agencies that had not had an appropriations bill passed for fiscal year 2019 before that date and was therefore impacted by the shutdown. During the shutdown, the Natural Resources Conservation Service was operational, but the other branches of the Farm Production and Conservation, or FPAC, mission area were not. The Risk Management Agency was not operating, and the Farm Services Agency operated intermittently, with some staff coming back to work in mid-January before funding was restored.

The shutdown ended with an agreement to fund the government for an additional three weeks while working on a long-term border funding deal. The current funding goes until Feb. 15.

As a result of the shutdown, details about Farm Bill implementation have been somewhat delayed, with more details expected in the coming weeks—assuming that all agencies under FPAC remain open and able to coordinate. Additionally, the FSA is now processing a backlog of loan applications for the coming year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service has rescheduled the release of Ag Census data from February 21 to April 11 (again assuming funding remains available during that time).

House Agriculture Committee Members Named

As the work of the 116th Congress begins in earnest, its members have been organized into committees.

On the Senate Agriculture Committee, there was little change given the outcome of the midterm elections. Senator Mike Braun of Indiana joined the Committee on the Republican side, and Republican Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas remains the committee chair. On the Democratic side, two former members of the Committee lost their recent re-elections, and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois (also the minority whip) was named to the Committee in their stead. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan remains the ranking member of the Committee.

On the House Agriculture Committee, however, there are many changes compared to the 115th Congress. Because of the change in majority in the chamber, Representative Collin Peterson is now the chairman of the Committee, and Representative Mike Conaway is now the ranking member. Several Democratic members had also been named to exclusive committees and received waivers to return to the Agriculture Committee, including Representatives Pingree, Bustos, Maloney, Panetta, O’Halleran, and McGovern. There are 12 new Democratic members on the Ag Committee, 10 of whom are freshmen; there are only 3 new Republican freshmen on the Committee. One of the Democratic freshmen, Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, has been chosen to chair the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee.

Looking Ahead

With another deadline for funding the federal government on the horizon, the conversation around a shutdown will remain at the top of the list for Congress in February. The USDA will continue to work through its process for Farm Bill implementation, including listening sessions for each of its mission areas, as it also works to clear the backlog of ongoing work from the past shutdown.