Congress passes $1.4 trillion appropriations package, House moves USMCA to Senate

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 434 views 

A day after the historic impeachment vote of President Donald Trump, Congress made progress Thursday (Dec. 19) on spending programs and a trade deal that will impact Arkansas.

An agreed-upon $1.4 trillion appropriations package passed the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate with support from Arkansas’ federal delegation. It is expected to be signed by President Trump.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., touted the bipartisan spending deal that involved a lot less drama than a year ago when the federal government was shut down over a budget impasse.

Womack, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said Arkansas would benefit in many ways from the spending measures approved. The FY2020 appropriations packages fully fund the federal government through Sept. 30, 2020.

Womack outlined the following spending priorities for Arkansas:

Arkansas Military: Supports Arkansas National Guard priorities, including funding for the Razorback Range mission in Fort Smith and C-130 modernization at the Little Rock Air Force Base. It also institutes a 3.1% pay raise for the military.

University of Arkansas: Funds important agriculture and education grants, the National Agriculture Library in Fayetteville, and the National Clean Plant Network program. Additionally, the bill supports NASA research and projects to address solutions and responses to Chronic Wasting Disease, which has severely impacted Arkansas’ deer population.

Law Enforcement: Supports the Department of Justice’s Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) program, which is used by law enforcement departments and agencies to share information and support services to combat crime.

Fire Departments: Includes resources for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, which directly help fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters available in communities.

Small Business: Provides funding for small business programs, including SBA disaster loans and the SBA Regional Innovation Clusters, to support continued economic growth and opportunity. Local businesses like Startup Junkie have benefited from these resources.

Infrastructure: Includes $1 billion for BUILD grants, with a requirement that 50% of the money goes to rural communities. An example of a local BUILD grant funded project includes a $25 million grant for the I-49 Bella Vista Bypass. Additionally, the legislation includes funding for programs to modernize and invest in small and rural airports.

Medical Research: Enhances resources for medical research through the National Institutes of Health for diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, as well as local initiatives to address obesity and the opioid epidemic.

Army Corps: Strengthens funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to help support navigation and flood control improvements locally and nationwide.

National Parks: Increases investment to address the U.S. National Park Service maintenance backlog.

Boozman, who chairs the Senate Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, touted additional specific spending measures that will help Arkansas.

  • Over $525 million for Army, Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps rockets produced in Arkansas;
  • $47 million for a C-130H/J Fuselage Trainer facility at Little Rock Air Force Base;
  • Over $20 million for munitions manufacturing at Pine Bluff Arsenal;
  • $66.7 million to support the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) research to promote and protect public health conducted at the National Center for Toxicological Research. This facility is located in Jefferson, Arkansas near Pine Bluff;
  • $30 million for the Delta Regional Authority which provides grants to the Delta region and funding for basic public infrastructure development and transportation improvements.

In another piece of big legislative business, the U.S. House approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) by a 385-41 vote. The bipartisan measure is an update to the 25-year old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In Arkansas, USMCA will:

  • Support $2.1 billion in exports shipped from Arkansas to Canada and Mexico every year;
  • Open Canada’s market to sell dairy, wheat, chicken, eggs, and turkey from Arkansas farmers;
  • Modernize intellectual property (IP) protections; and
  • Ensure tariff-free trade for Arkansas manufacturers which could have faced up to $225 million in extra taxes without USMCA.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Rich Hillman, newly elected president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. “We first reached a general agreement on USMCA more than a year ago, but we had been unable to get ratification from Washington until today… USMCA will bring needed stability to the agricultural marketplace. And we are thankful that all four members of the Arkansas House delegation voted for ratification.”

The USMCA also includes a 16-year expiration date and a provision that requires a review of the deal every six years, when it can be extended.

It further updates the dispute settlement process. NAFTA’s dispute-settlement system, which allows member countries to bring grievances against other members over allegations of unfair trading practices, will remain the same.

Canada and Mexico are Arkansas’ and the United States’ two largest agricultural trading partners, totaling a combined $40 billion in 2018.

Walmart weighed in on the USMCA debate with its support:

“Walmart supports the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and urges swift congressional passage of the agreement. North America is core to Walmart’s operations as a global company with more than 2,800 Walmart retail units in Mexico and Canada, supporting nearly 430,000 jobs, in addition to more than 5,000 U.S. stores and clubs and 1.5 million U.S. jobs. Walmart and our customers will benefit from the free flow of goods and services under the USMCA. In addition, new commitments on digital trade and trade facilitation will enable us to take advantage of an integrated e-commerce marketplace in North America,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, was on the GOP whip team for USMCA. He said the passage of the trade deal would help 100,000 Arkansas farmers, ranchers and manufacturers.

“USMCA sets the stage for billions more in U.S. economic activity and strengthens our hand as we negotiate new trade deals with China, the United Kingdom, and other global partners,” Hill said.

“I’ve been on the front lines of this hard-negotiated trade deal for the past three years because it has the greatest potential to directly improve the lives of central Arkansas families. USMCA was one of President Trump’s top priorities for the American people, and I want to congratulate him, U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, and my House colleagues on this historic achievement,” he said.

USMCA now heads to the Senate for consideration and will likely be voted on after first of the year.