Grassley: No negotiations on COVID-19 aid until July 20

Discussions are taking place behind the scenes on the next coronavirus aid package, but there will be no formal negotiations between Senate and House leaders on the package until July 20, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said today.

“We are going to try to get things in for ethanol and biofuels and help for agriculture,” Grassley said in his regular weekly call to rural reporters.

The Senate is expected to leave Thursday for a recess until Monday, July 20. The House will hold only pro forma floor sessions the first two weeks of July, while House appropriations subcommittees and the full House Appropriations Committee meet and prepare bills for floor votes between July 20 and 31. (The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up the fiscal year 2021 Agriculture bill at 6 p.m. Monday, July 6, and to mark up the bill in full committee on July 9.)

The Senate is scheduled to remain in session from July 20 through August 6, and Grassley said he expects the Senate to finish the coronavirus aid package by August 6 and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Although some Republicans have questioned spending more money, Grassley said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is determined to pass another coronavirus aid package and that it must contain limits on liability due to the coronavirus.

Grassley said reasons to wait until July 20 are: to see the state of the economy; to see how much of the aid to state and localities and hospitals has been spent; and to check how much money remains in the Payroll Protection Program that the Small Business Administration is running.

Grassley said that his priorities are aid for biofuels and livestock producers who have had to kill their animals because there has not been slaughterhouse capacity. But he also said he’s going to “count on” crop insurance and regular farm subsidy programs to take “that would have kicked in regardless of the pandemic.”

On the call, Grassley also said:

▪ The implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement on trade on Wednesday is a testament to Trump’s commitment to following through on campaign promises.

▪ The U.S. government must monitor Mexico and Canada on enforcement “because I am sure they are going to be monitoring the United States.”

▪ He expects the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to use trade remedy tools to address Mexico’s unwillingness to approve biotech traits.

▪ He agrees with the decision of Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to block the nomination of Doug Benevento as Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator over EPA’s handling of the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Small Refinery Exemptions program.

▪ He wants to hear what Trump wants to do in a second term and that Trump’s agenda should include continuing to “drain the swamp, taking on special interests” and the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

▪ The Climate Solutions bill would establish a role for the Agriculture Department in a carbon market that could “revitalize” the biofuels industry.

Grassley also criticized Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., for blocking his bill that would require a percentage of cattle sales to be for cash rather than pre-negotiated. Grassley said Roberts told him he was “considering” his bill, but when other members of the committee wanted to have breakfast with Roberts to discuss it, he declined.

“Here is the sad thing about the chairman of the committee,” Grassley said. “This is badly needed. I think of the money beef producers are losing.” Grassley noted that 80% of the cattle sales are pre-negotiated contracts, which makes spot sellers residual suppliers. “Four producers that have 80% of slaughter capacity, they are powerful forces in this town. You would think the chairman of the Ag committee would see the needs of the family farmer.”

–The Hagstrom Report