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Farm bailout money likely to be included in stopgap spending bill amid pressure from moderate House Democrats

The House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on Feb. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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House Democrats, amid a backlash from moderates, are backing away from a plan to block President Trump from extending new farm bailout funds, people briefed on the discussions said.

The shift comes days after Democrats had sought to prevent the White House from expanding a major component of their farm bailout plan, which the White House has estimated could cost close to $30 billion. Trump had authorized the bailout funds in response to an outcry from farmers who claimed they were caught in the middle of his trade war with China.

Democrats are likely to include legislation that would expedite payment of these funds as part of a must-pass spending bill as soon as this week.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

The provision in question would now ensure the continuation of a multibillion-dollar White House farm bailout program that was at risk of running short of money. The Washington Post reported last week that House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) was proposing to block the bailout program as she and other lawmakers worked to finalize a short-term spending bill aimed at preventing a government shutdown Oct. 1.

Lowey and other House Democratic leaders were trying to draft a “clean” spending bill to extend government funding through Nov. 21 without including many extraneous issues. However, a number of moderate House Democrats, including leaders of the Agriculture Committee, objected, urging that the spending bill include language safeguarding the farm bailout program, which was created last year after complaints from farm groups that Trump’s trade war with China was hurting farm country.

In a statement Monday, Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) and other committee leaders said that the Agriculture Department request to safeguard the bailout program should be included in the spending bill, which is expected on the House floor later this week.

“As members of Congress who represent agricultural communities, we repeatedly hear from farmers in our districts whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by the ongoing trade wars,” Peterson and other lawmakers said. “Although we mutually have concerns with 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. ... We cannot and will not allow our farmers to be used as political pawns.”

A senior Democratic aide said Monday that language on the farm bailout was likely to be included in the spending bill, which is expected to be released later Monday or Tuesday. The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of official release of the bill, said additional provisions were being negotiated to ensure accountability and transparency of the program.

Under the bailout program, billions of dollars in taxpayer funds are being paid to farmers to offset losses from the trade war, but the Department of Agriculture is nearing a $30 billion borrowing limit, and congressional action is needed to ensure a second round of payments can be completed.

The farm bailout language remained one of a handful of items being negotiated as lawmakers sought to finalize the short-term spending legislation. Even as Democratic leaders backed off from plans to exclude the farm bailout provisions, they were pushing a separate provision aimed at ensuring U.S. territories would have access to additional Medicaid funds.

The “continuing resolution” spending bill, if passed by the House and Senate, would keep government agencies running through Nov. 21 at existing spending levels. That’s supposed to allow lawmakers more time to write full-year spending bills for the 2020 budget year at higher spending levels agreed to in a sweeping budget deal passed over the summer — although that process has stalled recently amid partisan disputes in the Senate.