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Bail out funds put shutdown bill at risk

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Rep. Nita Lowey
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lowey is proposing to block the White House from fully funding its farm bailout program potentially imperiling President Donald Trump's ability to direct payments to thousands of farmers. (Erin Schaff/Copyright 2019 The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., is proposing to block the White House request over its farm bailout program, according to a draft of legislation, potentially imperiling President Donal Trump's ability to direct payments to thousands of farmers.

A key Republican responded by attacking the Democrat's move, saying it could threaten passage of key bill needed to avoid a government shutdown. The bailout has emerged as one of several unresolved issues that lawmakers still need to sort out in order to meet a deadline by the end of this month.

The bailout program was created last year amid complaints from farmers that China had stopped purchasing their crops in retaliation for new tariffs that the White House imposed on Chinese imports.

Trump has ordered that billions of dollars in taxpayer funds be paid directly to farmers as a way to offset their losses.

The bailout didn't need congressional approval up to this point, but now the timing of the payments is tied to congressional approval.

The Department of Agriculture is planning to spend upwards of $28 billion in payments over two years, but the Depression-era program Trump is using for the program has a $30 billion borrowing limit will be hit this year before the completion of a second round of payments.

If Congress does not act, then some of the bailout money Trump has promised farmers could not be paid on the administration's timeline. A spokesman at the USDA said the money would still go out, but that the timing of the program could be impacted.

In new legislation to fund the government into November, Lowey left out of the White House request that would allow them to avert the $30 billion spending cap. As head of the appropriations committee, she has broad power to decide what is included in any spending bill.

Lawmakers from both parties are under pressure to pass a new spending bill in the next few weeks, or they will risk a government shutdown on October 1.

Republicans suggested they might not agree to fund the government if it leaves the bailout issue unresolved. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., chair of the Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, said Republicans would not accept any limits on the farm credit program while the trade dispute is underway.

"Farmers have been hurt; the U.S. government is appropriately responding," he said. "It's not clear to me whether or not this is a negotiating tactic by our friends on the other side, but I do think it's important for America that this be resolved."

Lawmakers from both parties are hopeful they can pass the stopgap spending bill and then continue negotiating a longer-term agreement.

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