Shepherd Grain Farm

Rep. Abigail Spanberger discusses tariffs' impact with John Shepherd, owner of Shepherd Grain Farm in Blackstone, on Aug. 14 during her two-day tour of farms in Virginia's 7th House District. He grows corn and soybeans.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, has helped preserve federal payments to U.S. crop and livestock producers hit by the administration’s trade wars.

When the U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term agreement Thursday to keep the government open, it included assistance to farmers under the Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation Program, which gives them financial aid to soften the blow of Chinese tariffs on their products.

Last week, news outlets reported that House leaders were considering striking language in the short-term continuing resolution that would fund the payments.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chair of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed to block the Trump administration’s request to bolster Commodity Credit Corp. money—used to make MPF payments—in the short-term spending bill. Without that language, the Market Facilitation Program payments would have been put on hold until Congress passed appropriations bills for fiscal 2020. That move threatened passage of the resolution needed to avoid a government shutdown.

On Monday, Spanberger was among 20 House Democrats who spoke up on the issue, urging Lowey, D-N.Y., and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger, R-Texas, to ensure that payments continue to reach farmers during the harvest season. The 20 legislators, who represent agricultural communities across the nation, have pushed the issue throughout the week.

“Although we all have concerns about President Trump’s approach to trade negotiations, we refuse to engage in the same tactics that punish our constituents and harm our communities that rely on agriculture,” the lawmakers wrote the Appropriations Committee’s top two leaders. “... We cannot and will not allow our farmers to be used as political pawns and will wholeheartedly resist any efforts intended to stop or delay these planned payments while farm families are fighting for their economic survival.”

Spanberger, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee’s conservation and forestry subcommittee, urged House appropriators to include Market Facilitation Program payments in the continuing resolution to fund the government. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The resulting agreement, approved Thursday by a bipartisan vote of 301-123 (with 76 Republicans in favor), would keep the government open through Nov. 21.

The Trump administration has sought to offset the impact of China’s retaliatory tariffs with its Market Facilitation Program, which released $12 billion last year and will spend up to $16 billion this year on direct payments to farmers hurt by lost exports.

“As the administration continues to engage in prolonged trade wars, Central Virginia producers are feeling the sting of market instability—and they continue to express their concerns about the prospect of losing long-term relationships with their buyers abroad. At this moment of great uncertainty in the farm economy, blocking trade aid is the wrong move,” Spanberger in a statement Thursday.

The Henrico Democrat said she was encouraged that House appropriators heeded House Agriculture Committee members’ calls to continue MFP payments.

“As Central Virginia crops and livestock continue to suffer due to misguided trade policies, I’ll keep fighting for ways to keep our district’s farms afloat, sustain our rural communities, and expand access to global markets,” Spanberger said.

The issue put some House Democrats in line with GOP leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, tweeted: “Democrats are threatening to harm rural America in an attempt to damage @realDonaldTrump by preventing USDA from providing support to ag producers. They are playing political games w/ farmers in a time of unprecedented challenge.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, the ranking GOP member on the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee told the Post that Republicans wouldn’t accept any limits on the farm credit program while the U.S. trade dispute with China continued.

Some critics say the market payments disproportionately benefit wealthy farmers, and have demanded more transparency about the program’s workings.

After Thursday’s vote, Spanberger expressed relief that the government will avoid “another senseless shutdown.”

“We shouldn’t be content with the congressional status quo of doing the bare minimum and lurching from one budget crisis to the next,” she said.

“It’s overwhelmingly clear that Central Virginians deserve a better budget procedure than this Groundhog-Day, stopgap funding process,” Spanberger said. “Going forward, we need to recommit to the principles of working together, passing a fiscally sound budget, and responsibly investing in the shared priorities of the American people.”

Major spending issues remain unresolved between Democrats and Republicans. With Thursday’s resolution, House lawmakers delayed tough decisions for two months, buying more time to negotiate.

Next week, the Senate is due to pass the resolution with just days to spare ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. Trump is expected to sign it into law.

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