(Updates with additional quotes from Thompson starting in the fourth paragraph.)
House Agriculture Committee Republicans plan to introduce their own Covid-19 relief plan Thursday, showcasing their priorities for a bipartisan package.
The discussion draft spearheaded by ranking member Glenn “GT” Thompson (Pa.) and other panel Republicans would provide $2.1 billion for rural health clinics, hospitals, schools, and other facilities, and $1 billion for biofuels producers hurt by the pandemic, among other measures to support farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.
The alternative proposal highlights Republicans’ discontent about partisanship in negotiating the current coronavirus relief package, but is unlikely to move forward in the Democratic-controlled House.
“We weren’t allowed to the table. Our ideas weren’t taken,” Thompson said in a Thursday phone interview. “What we’re putting forward really were great bipartisan solutions that, quite frankly, doesn’t take away from any of the Democrat agriculture priorities.”
The House is set to vote on Democrats’ American Rescue Plan Act Friday. Agriculture Committee Republicans aim to introduce their proposal as an amendment when the Rules Committee meets before the floor vote.
“It’s just common sense that this amendment that’s offset would be accepted,” Thompson said. “This bill fails largely in identifying and serving the needs of rural America, and our amendment makes that better.”
The farm panel advanced the agriculture and nutrition portions of the Democratic-led relief proposal earlier this month on a party-line vote of 25-23. Thompson called the markup “disappointing” in his closing comments, citing partisanship and a lack of Republican input on the legislation.
GOP members also protested that a hearing wasn’t held to better understand the needs of rural America and agriculture producers. The committee’s first hearing on climate change is scheduled for later on Thursday.
However, Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) pointed to the passage of the agriculture provisions as “one step closer to feeding the hungry, supplying COVID-19 vaccinations to our rural communities, seeking equitable solutions for Black farmers and other farmers of color, and supporting our food and ag sector supply chains,” according to his Feb. 11 statement.
Scott’s office didn’t immediately respond to a Thursday request for additional comment.
Aid for Farmers, Ranchers
The GOP plan would direct the Biden administration to resume payments for struggling agriculture producers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Implementation has been suspended until further notice, the Agriculture Department indicates on the program website.
The measure would provide:
- $800 million for rural broadband connectivity;
- $300 million to bolster access to pandemic-affected Agriculture Department services by providing employee protective measures, among other efforts; and
- $100 million for the department to broaden the farm safety education program to include agricultural processors.
It would also extend agriculture disaster assistance for producers who suffered losses in 2020, including those hurt by derechos, or thunderstorms accompanied by hurricane-like windstorms.
Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) broke with her caucus at the markup to approve an amendment to the Democratic legislation from fellow Iowan Rep. Randy Feenstra (R). The measure would add payments for crop losses due to natural disasters, including high winds and derechos.
A derecho swept through parts of their state and others in the Midwest last August, leaving flattened crops and other destruction in its wake.
Agriculture Committee Republicans proposed paying for their plan by reducing funding for transit provided elsewhere in the bill to $22 billion, from $30 billion.
“It just seemed that we could have reprioritized the transportation grant funding for cities, and invest it in rural America instead,” Thompson said, calling the legislation as a whole a “big win” for urban and suburban communities.
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan U. Boyanton in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org