The new government funding bill had its share of brinksmanship by President Trump and a normally mild-mannered Senator, but ultimately it crossed the finish line with hours to spare. The package not only settled administrative budgets for the next six months, it also contained several policy fixes that will make a big difference to rural Missouri. This “omnibus” package funded government through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Congressional leaders worked behind the scenes to insert some vital agricultural provisions into this bill. Access to broadband internet has been a huge concern for rural Missourians in recent years, and this bill devotes over $600 million to mapping and deployment. Missouri Farm Bureau (MOFB) has long advocated for better broadband mapping so that we know what we already have, plus funding to help complete the job of connecting rural areas to the rest of the modern world.
Court rulings in recent years have threatened to force farms to somehow measure and report methane and other gas emissions from livestock – yes, cow flatulence – under the EPA’s Superfund law. Missouri Congressman Billy Long and Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer drafted language to stop this ridiculous regulation, and the final omnibus bill adopted the fix. Due to this bill, cow farts will no longer cause farms to be Superfund sites. There is perhaps no more common-sense legislation in America, and it came right from Missouri.
Last year MOFB convened school leaders and administrators from across southern Missouri to discuss the need to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program. The federal government splits proceeds from timber sales and mining on federal forests or lands with local communities. The local share was cut in half two years ago when the Secure Rural Schools program expired, putting strain on rural school districts. The omnibus finally reauthorizes this program and provides funds retroactively to counties and schools. This is a huge win for our cash-strapped rural areas, and is an issue of basic fairness.
MOFB has heard concerns from many members about the hardships caused by the federal government’s new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. While safety on the roads is our number one priority, the agency that promulgated this rule did not adequately take the needs of the agriculture industry into account – especially for those who are hauling live animals. Little to no outreach has been conducted on this rule to our industry, and Farm Bureau has explored multiple avenues to delay the implementation of this rule or exempt agriculture altogether. The omnibus bill extends the compliance deadline for the ELD mandate to September 30, 2018.
Any time a $1.3 trillion spending package passes, there is plenty to be displeased with. But these items and a number of other tweaks contained in the bill are real positives for the people of rural Missouri. For the first time in what seems like forever, Congress can now operate without a looming budgetary crisis, and it cleaned the decks of many nagging issues that been harming rural America.