Washington Week Ahead: Abe visits as trade talks intensify, House targets WOTUS rule

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 26, 2015 - The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact will be high on the agenda as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Washington this week to meet with President Obama and speak to a joint session of Congress.

Abe's visit comes as Republican leaders are nailing down the votes for the fast-track trade bills that House and Senate committees approved last week. The nearly identical bills would smooth the way for consideration of the TPP by assuring Japan and other partner countries that the deal will get an up-or-down vote in Congress, but White House officials say they don't expect to wrap up negotiations with Japan this week.

“We expect the leaders to review the progress and to have the opportunity to discuss what should be the next steps together, but we do not expect any announcement of a final deal,” said Caroline Atkinson, Obama's deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. “We still have some work to do.”

She said U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who was in Japan last week to continue the negotiations,  “made substantial progress,” but she offered no details. 

Also this week, the House Agriculture Committee could vote out as many as three bills, including measures reauthorizing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Grain Standards Act. Many in the grain industry are hoping to use the CFTC legislation to roll back a series of Dodd-Frank regulations. The grain standards measure is expected to include provisions to ensure that grain inspections continue during labor disputes. The third bill on tap would renew the law authorizing mandatory livestock price reporting.

The full House, meanwhile, will debate the fiscal 2016 spending bill for the Army Corps of Engineers that includes a provision that would block the administration from implementing its rule re-defining what streams, ditches, ponds and other features fall under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

According to the GOP leadership agenda, the House may also take up a standalone bill (HR 1732) that would require the Corps of Engineers and the EPA to withdraw the rule and propose an alternative version after consultation with state and local officials, who broadly propose the current proposal.

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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who has promised that the final rule will be significantly revised from what was proposed a year ago, will be testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, and the WOTUS rule is certain to come up then, too.

House Democratic appropriators warned last week that the WOTUS provision in the Energy and Water spending bill is almost certain to provoke a presidential veto. Democrats failed to strip the WOTUS rider from the bill, however.

As for the trade issue, President Obama has been dialing up the pressure on his liberal base even as Republicans and their Democratic allies have been advancing the fast-track bills toward the floor. In a speech Thursday to the activist group Organizing for America and then in his weekly address on Saturday, Obama made the case that the TPP would be fundamentally different than past trade agreements.

“It's the highest-standard trade agreement in history,” Obama said. “It's got strong provisions for workers and the environment - provisions that, unlike in past agreements, are actually enforceable.  If you want in, you have to meet these standards.  If you don't, then you're out.”

In the Republican response, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan had an eye toward conservatives in making a pitch for the fast-track bill, arguing that American leadership was at stake. “We're the only country that can stand up for free enterprise and the rule of law. This is our moment,” he said.

[Keep up with ag and rural policy and energy news throughout the week. Sign up for a four-week free trial of Agri-Pulse.] 

Ryan isn't the only committee chairman who's in a hurry this spring to move legislation. Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is moving quickly to clear all the major legislative items from his agenda with the CFTC bill, grain standards and price reporting measures.

The grain standards bill won't allow for the use of private inspectors during labor disputes, but it's possible it could ensure that federal inspectors intervene when state workers refuse to do inspections during a labor dispute. It also could permit inspectors from other states to fill in.

Inspections at the Port of Vancouver in Washington were shut down last summer when state inspectors, who work under authority of the U.S. Agriculture Department, declined to work during labor demonstrations, citing safety concerns. USDA declined to step in, citing the same reason. Washington is one of five states where state agencies conduct export inspections under USDA authority.

As for the CFTC bill, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., has said the new legislation will track closely to the Customer Protection and End User Relief Act that passed the House last year. Among other things, the bill would have exempted agricultural companies and other end users from posting margin, or collateral to cover credit risk on derivatives trades. 

Agricultural traders are telling lawmakers that new requirements are driving up costs, while the futures markets have complained to the committee about cross-border jurisdictional issues. The committee's new bill is expected to address a number of the latter concerns, including the European Union's recognition of U.S. clearinghouses and U.S. recognition of foreign clearinghouses.

Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, April 27

All day - North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at noon.

All day - National Association of Farm Broadcasters Washington Watch meeting. Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant announces The Doan award, in memory of Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stewart Doan. The award will be presented by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts.

4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.


Tuesday, April 28

Morning - North American Agricultural Journalists meeting.

All day - National Association of Farm Broadcasters meeting. Vilsack speaks at 9 a.m.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the administration's Quadrennial Energy Review, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on the role of judicial review in the federal regulatory process, 342 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security, 226 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. - Phoong Tang, U.S. crop protection lead for Monsanto Co., speaks at anevent sponsored by Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies on "Innovation, Collaboration and Engagement.”

Wednesday, April 29

Morning - National Association of Farm Broadcasters Washington Watch.

9 a.m. - Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing on the Homeland Security Department's budget request, 342 Dirksen.

9:30 a.m. - House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee marks up fiscal 2016 spending bill, 2358-A Rayburn.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs subcommittee hearing on private investment in public infrastructure, 538 Dirksen.

11 a.m. -Abe addresses joint session of Congress.

1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on national forest management, 1300 Longworth.

2 p.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on "Zero Accountability: The Consequences of Politically Driven Science,” 1334 Longworth.

2 p.m. - House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee hearing on the EPA's proposed ozone standards, 2318 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. - The Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the EPA, 124 Dirksen.

Thursday, April 30

9 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on EPA mismanagement, 2154 Rayburn.

1 p.m. - Joint hearing by the Financial Services Committee and an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the Export-Import Bank, 2154 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Bureau of Reclamation's hydraulic fracturing rule, 366 Dirksen.

Friday, May 1

Vilsack speaks at the 20th anniversary opening of the USDA Farmers Market, Whitten Building.

#30

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