Washington Week Ahead: COOL decision due; McConnell, Ryan see fast-track passage

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 17, 2015 -Trade issues will dominate the attention of farm-state lawmakers as the World Trade Organization releases its final ruling on U.S. country-of-origin labeling and the Senate resumes debate on its fast-track trade bill.

The ruling expected Monday is widely expected to affirm the WTO's earlier decision against the labeling regulations for beef and pork, denying the Obama administration's appeal. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said he plans to move a bill as soon as this week to repeal the COOL law.

“I don't intend to wait,” said Conaway, who will appear at a news conference Tuesday with representatives of the National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which have long opposed the labeling rules. Officials with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which are concerned that the case could lead to retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports to Mexico and Canada, also will be represented.

The Senate returns to its fast-track, Trade Promotion Authority trade bill (HR 1314) Monday afternoon, with the first votes on amendments.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday said on ABC's “This Week” he expected the TPA bill to pass the Senate before the Memorial Day recess.

The House vote is likely to be closer, but Ways and Mean Chairman Paul Ryan predicted Sunday that the fast-track bill would pass there, too. "We will have the votes. We're doing very well. We're gaining a lot of steam and momentum," he said on CNN's State of the Union.

Lets Talk Food

The Senate could debate issues ranging from immigration to the Export-Import Bank and catfish inspections. The Ex-Im Bank's charter is due to expire at the end of June. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has filed an amendment to extend it with some reforms.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is proposing to end the Agriculture Department's authority to inspect catfish. A spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry group that has been trying to block the inspection program since it was authorized by the 2008 farm bill, said McCain's amendment has a good chance of getting a vote. 

Several Republicans have filed amendments addressing claims by conservatives that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could undermine U.S. immigration laws, an allegation the administration denies.

An amendment by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would require the administration to develop a plan to increase exports to Africa by at least 200 percent.

The bill clearly has enough support to pass the Senate. Thirteen Democrats voted last week to allow the debate to begin after Republicans promised to allow votes on a separate enforcement measure.

“I wouldn't want to presume or say this is absolutely a for-sure, done deal, but I think obviously 13 Democrats voting to get on the bill is a very positive sign for TPA,” one of those Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, said in an Agri-Pulse OpenMic interview.

Pro-trade Democrats have been working to build support for the legislation in the House. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., brought in former Secretary of State Madeline Albright last week to make the geopolitical case for new trade agreements to his New Democrat coalition.

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

Meanwhile, the Republican plan to stop the Obama administration's attempt to redefine the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act will shift to the Senate on Tuesday. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on a bill (S 1140) that would kill the administration's “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule and require consultation with states and local governments before issuing a replacement. The bill is similar to one (HR 1732) that the House passed last week with support of 24 Democrats.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee will vote on its fiscal 2016 spending bill for the Corps of Engineers. The House-passed version of the bill includes a provision that would block the administration from implementing its WOTUS rule after Oct. 1.

Opponents of the rule would prefer to kill it, but the House vote was well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. So, their best hope may be the delay in implementation of the administration's rule that the appropriations rider would provide.

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

Monday, May 18

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman meets privately with EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.

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


Tuesday, May 19

10 a.m. - House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on waste, fraud and abuse in child nutrition programs, 2175 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on a draft bill on energy reliability and security, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources hearing on management of the greater sage grouse, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on energy supply legislation, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S 1140), to replace the proposed WOTUS rule, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Heritage Foundation forum, “Red Tape Rising: Six Years of Escalating Regulation Under Obama,” with Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and James Lankford, R-Okla., 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.

11 a.m. - News conference on COOL repeal by members of Congress and industry groups, House Triangle.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee marks up fiscal 2016 spending bill, 138 Dirksen.

Wednesday, May 20

9:30 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittees hearing on the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works oversight hearing on EPA scientific advisory process, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Cuba relations, 419 Dirksen.

1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1300 Longworth.

Thursday, May 21

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

10 a.m.- House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the quadrennial energy review and related discussion drafts, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Jeffrey Michael Prieto's nomination to be USDA's general counsel, and the panel holds a business meeting on pending legislation, 328-A Russell.

3 p.m. - USDA releases Farm Labor report.

Friday, May 22

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