Washington Week Ahead: Budget battle looms for Congress; TPP negotiators meet

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 8, 2015 - Lawmakers are bracing for a battle over federal spending as House and Senate Republican leaders prepare budget blueprints for reducing the deficit.

This week is relatively quiet in Congress - the House is in recess. That will leave just two weeks before the start of the both chambers' two-week Easter break for Republicans to move their respective budget resolutions, long-term plans for spending and taxes.

Farm organizations andanti-hunger groupshave been worried the resolutions could include instructions to the Agriculture committees to propose cuts farm and nutrition programs. Almost 400 groups wrote the Budget committees last month urging them to reject any cuts to farm bill programs.

One potential target for cuts, crop insurance, received strong endorsements from the likely GOP presidential candidates who attended the historic Iowa Ag Summit Saturday in Des Moines. The candidates weren't pressed at the event to oppose specific cuts in the program. But in a typical remark, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bushsaid crop insurance “creates a stability that makes it possible in very volatile kinds of situations for farmers to be able to be successful.”

Meanwhile, the Farm Credit Administration is set to get two new permanent board members. The Senate has voice votes scheduled late Monday on the nominations of two new members of the FCA board, Jeffery Hall and Dallas Tonsager.

Hall, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was state director of USDA's Farm Service Agency in Kentucky during the George W. Bush administration. Tonsager is returning to the board, where he served for more than four years before becoming USDA's undersecretary for rural development during President Obama's first term.

Lets Talk Food

Tonsager replaces Jill Long Thompson, the board's current chair. Hall replaces Leland Strom.

The Food and Drug Administration's lame-duck commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, will be back on Capitol Hill this week, testifying before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Hamburg, who is stepping down from FDA this month, appealed to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee last weekfor an increase in spending to implement new regulations on farms, produce packers and food processors under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The chairman of the full House committee, Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told Hamburgthat the $150 million increase would be “tough to swallow.”

Work on President Obama's trade agenda is continuing behind the scenes. The United States will host a meeting of theTrans-Pacific Partnership chief negotiators meeting in Hawaii all week.

Talks continue in the Senate on terms for a bill to give the president the fast-track trade negotiating authority he needs to complete the 12-nation TPP deal and get an up-or-down on the agreement in Congress.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said last week that work on the legislation is likely delayed until April because of this month's budget debate and his inability so far to wrap up an agreement with Democrats on the terms of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation.

Rep. Adrian Smith, a Nebraska Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles trade legislation in that chamber, remains optimistic Congress can pass TPA legislation this spring in order to have time to consider a TPP agreement yet this year after the required 90-day review. “We're still on that track,” he said.

TPP supporters want to get the agreement ratified before the 2016 campaigns heat up.

[Watching for stories about trade and farm policy? Sign up for an Agri-Pulse four-week free trial subscription to stay on top of this and other ag, rural policy and energy issues.] 

This Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be in Raleigh, N.C., to kick off a two-day conference USDA is sponsoring on biotechnology coexistence.

The conference will be part of a wide-ranging review of USDA's biotech regulatory process that is likely to take several years, the administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Kevin Shea, told Agri-Pulse. APHIS recently withdrew a 2008 proposed rule, developing during the Bush administration, that would have overhauled USDA's regulatory process. “We're looking at everything, fresh look,” Shea said.

Both days of the conference will be webcast.

Also on Thursday, Oxfam America rolls out a report on the Obama administration's $1 billion-a-year Feed the Future agricultural development initiative. The group is hosting a forum headlined by former Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, the former agriculture secretary who championed Feed the Future in the Senate.

(Editor's Sara Wyant's note: Agri-Pulse's senior editor, Philip Brasher, will moderate a panel that will include Tjada McKenna, who coordinates Feed the Future implementation forthe U.S. Agency for International Development; Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America; and the former president of a Tanzanian farmer group.)

The Oxfam report, based on a series of case studies in six of the 19 Feed the Future countries, will say that USAID has made “substantial, real and important improvements” in the way it delivers aid. But the reportwill warn about an “overreliance on a market-led investment approach” that could leave many women and other smallholder farmers behind.

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

Monday, March 9

The U.S. Trade Representative's agricultural trade negotiator, Darci Vetter, briefs the American Farm Bureau Federation's trade advisory committee.

11 a.m. - The Congressional Budget Office releases updated baseline projections.

3 p.m. - USDA releases Latest U.S. Agricultural Trade Data.

Tuesday, March 10

Noon - USDA releases World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Crop Production reports.

Wednesday, March 11

9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum, “The Nexus of Technology, Agricultural Productivity and the Environment,” National Press Club.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on state perspectives on the Obama administration's proposed limits to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, 406 Dirksen.

1 p.m. International technical conference, sponsored by Farm Foundation, on “Agricultural Productivity and the Environment,” USDA Economic Research Service, 355 E St. 

Thursday, March 12

All day - Farm Foundation conference on “Agricultural Productivity and the Environment.”

All day - USDA Stakeholder Workshop on Coexistence in Raleigh, N.C. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is the opening speaker.

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

9:30 a.m.- Oxfam America forum on the “promise and potential” of Feed the Future, Rotunda Reception, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Food and Drug Commissioner, with FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, 138 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2015 (S 556g), 366 Dirksen.

Friday, March 13

All day - USDA Stakeholder Workshop on Coexistence.

#30

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