Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) Erica Werner
Congressional reporter focusing on economic policy
May 13 at 4:48 PM
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is attempting to add protections for hemp farmers to a sweeping disaster aid bill that’s languishing on Capitol Hill, in the latest hiccup for the long-stalled legislation.
McConnell, who’s up for re-election in Kentucky next year, has become a leading champion of the hemp industry in his home state, pushing language in last year’s Farm Bill to legalize industrial hemp production nationally.
Now, with a $17 billion disaster bill stalled on Capitol Hill amid a series of political skirmishes, McConnell is trying to add language to the legislation to ensure hemp will be eligible for federal crop insurance, according to a draft of the provision reviewed by The Washington Post.
It was not immediately clear what impact McConnell’s hemp language might have on larger negotiations over the bill, which have been hung up for months in a fight between congressional Democrats and President Trump over aid to Puerto Rico.
As the negotiations have dragged on, more issues have sprung up to complicate them, including an effort by the White House to add emergency border spending to the disaster bill, and a move by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to loosen restrictions on a harbor maintenance trust fund.
The White House opposes Shelby’s attempted change to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, but an administration spokesman had no immediate comment on McConnell’s hemp language. A McConnell aide said the goal of the language was to eliminate any uncertainty left by the farm bill and ensure that hemp would be eligible for federal crop insurance in time for the 2020 crop year.
The development on hemp comes as Republicans and Democrats continue to negotiate on the disaster bill, which includes aid for everything from California wildfires and midwest flooding to an earthquake in Alaska and hurricanes and tornadoes in the south. Even as lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated over their inability to reach a deal, GOP negotiators have struggled to find a balance that satisfies Democrats’ demands for more generous funding for Puerto Rico — and Trump’s reluctance to provide more aid to the island.
Lawmakers widely hope to finalize a deal this week or next before leaving Washington for a Memorial Day recess, but it’s unclear if they will be able to do so.
In dueling floor speeches Monday, McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) both called for swift action on the disaster bill and traded blame over the delay.
“Disaster assistance has not been partisan. It has been over a half-year since many of these disasters hit,” McConnell said. “Our country is in need. … I would urge Democrats and Republicans in the House as well as the Senate to identify our common ground and produce an outcome for the American people.”
Schumer renewed criticism of Republicans and Trump over Puerto Rico, saying: “Go to the Republican leadership, if you are a Republican senator, and tell them we must pass a bill that protects everybody. The president’s animus for the people of Puerto Rico is antithetical to our values.
An early Senate GOP bill contained $600 million for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program, but Senate Republicans have recently agreed to hundreds of millions of dollars more for the island as it recovers from the ravages of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which left thousands dead. Trump, however, has continued to wrongly claim that Puerto Rico has already gotten $91 billion — a figure that actually represents an estimate of future need on the island and is much larger than the $40.8 billion that has been allocated to Puerto Rico, of which just over $11 billion has actually been spent.