Ag Needs Jeopardized in Infrastructure Political Quagmire

Key farm needs on everything from rural broadband and new locks to possible farm labor reforms are mired in the politics of two huge Biden infrastructure bills—one, brick and mortar, the other, social safety net.

Democrats are going for broke with two massive and highly politicized bills, one whose fate is tied up in an imminent procedural vote that could decide key rural spending on broadband, ports and locks.

Trouble is, the bill’s not ready, its “pay-fors” still in dispute. Yet Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is putting a “shell bill” up for a procedural vote. “All a ‘yes’ vote on the motion to proceed simply means, is that the Senate is ready to begin debating and amending a bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

But Republican vote-counters claim their side won’t provide enough votes to start debate on a bill that’s not ready and that Schumer wants to debate in pieces if the whole bill’s not ready by Thursday.

Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley says, “I want an infrastructure bill, but you can’t expect Chuck Grassley or any of the other 49 Republicans, and maybe a few Democrats, why would you expect, we ought to be able to put up an infrastructure bill and have a motion to proceed, when you don’t even have the language of the bill?”

Another Ag issue, farm labor reform, is wrapped up in the politics of a second, even larger, social infrastructure bill that could be passed with a simple majority of Democrats—a process known as reconciliation. Grassley says, “Reconciliation, I don’t think, allows immigration. But if reconciliation would allow immigration, then it seems to me, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include the H-2a Program in it.”

Referring to the seasonal farmworker visa program, Grassley wants to make year-round, without granting amnesty to hundreds of thousands of farmworkers here, illegally. Amnesty sunk earlier farm labor reform efforts, and Grassley admits it could do so again—even if the Senate Parliamentarian agrees to allow immigration reform in the Biden social spending bill later this year.