Washington Week Ahead: Brief foray into bipartisanship may end as House returns

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2016 - The bipartisanship that took hold as Congress enacted a series of major pieces of legislation before Christmas is likely to come to a quick end as the election year begins.

The House returns to work from the holiday break to take up bills this week intended to send election-year political messages, starting with legislation that would repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.  The measure is headed for the White House for a certain veto, but the point is to show voters what congressional Republicans could accomplish with a Republican president.

Also on the House agenda this week are bills aimed at curbing federal regulations. including a bill with the self-explanatory title, the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome (SCRUB) Act.

In a December interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett, House Speaker Paul Ryan said congressional Republicans believe the “country's headed in the wrong direction” and will make a case for how they'll turn it around.

Lets Talk Food “We think Obama has transformed us in a bad way. We owe people an alternative, and that's exactly what we're going to lay out.”

The Senate doesn't return from its holiday recess until next week.

Also this week, the outgoing president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Bob Stallman. will be feted Wednesday for his tenure heading up the nation's largest farm organization.

At an event Wednesday at USDA's Whitten Building, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden will proclaim Wednesday “Bob Stallman Appreciation Day.”

Stallman announced in July that he was stepping down after 16 years at the helm of the group. His successor will be elected at the Farm Bureau's annual convention next week in Orlando.

The House is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on the SCRUB Act , which would set up a commission to make recommendations on obsolete or unnecessary regulations that should be eliminated. The bill's goal is to reduce the overall cost of federal rules by 15 percent.

Supporters of the bill cite an estimate that the cost of regulations has reached $1.86 trillion, or about $15,000 annually per U.S. household. But opponents say the bill overlooks the benefits to consumers and businesses that regulations provide.

“This commission would only consider the costs to affected industries while ignoring the benefits of oversight,” says the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.

“The commission's goal to achieve a 15 percent reduction in the cumulative cost of regulations would result in the repeal of critical health, safety and environmental safeguards - even when the benefits of these rules are significant, appreciated by the public and far outweigh the costs”

The House also is scheduled to debate the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act, which is aimed at curbing the development of consent decrees and settlement agreements that lead to new regulations.

Under the bill, the terms of consent decrees or settlement agreements, and the awards of attorneys' fees would have to be made public in an electronic format. The bill also would require that settlements be negotiated through mediation or alternative dispute resolution programs.

The bill could actually increase attorneys' fees in individual cases by lengthening the process of developing consent decrees, but that cost would be offset if the longer process for settling cases deters future lawsuits, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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Also this week, an administrative law judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board is scheduled to discuss settlement options in a whistleblower complaint against USDA. USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren allges that he was punished for publishing research that found neonicotinoid insecticides harm pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies.

The judge last month turned down USDA's request to dismiss the complaint, saying Lundgren had presented “non-frivolous allegations” that a 14-day suspension he received was related to his filing of a scientific integrity complaint.

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

Monday, Jan. 4

Tuesday, Jan. 5

Noon - USDA releases Crop Progress-State Stories report.

Wednesday, Jan. 6

Bob Stallman, the outgoing president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is honored at USDA event with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. 

11 a.m. - House Small Business Committee hearing on mismanagement at the Small Business Administration, 2360 Rayburn.

4 p.m. - Cato Institute forum on the book, “The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy,” 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Thursday, Jan. 7

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

11 a.m. - House Small Business hearing on SBA mismanagement, with SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, 2360 Rayburn.

12:30 p.m. - EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy addresses the Council on Foreign Relations on the implications of the Paris climate agreement, 1777 F Street, NW.

Friday,  Jan. 8

Vilsack travels to Vermont to announce a statewide energy efficiency investment.

Comment period closes: Pesticide Registration Review; Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Certain Organophosphates.

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