Washington Week Ahead: Congress returns to budget issue, energy talks

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Sept.  4, 2016 - Lawmakers return to the Capitol for the first time since mid-July for a month-long session in which they must pass a stopgap bill to keep the government running until when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

The continuing resolution is expected to extend until at least December, when House Republican leaders would like to pass a government-wide, omnibus spending bill in December. However, hardline GOP conservatives are pushing to delay any agreement on fiscal 2017 spending until the new president and Congress take office.

Much of the session is likely to be dominated by efforts by both parties to highlight issues that could play a role in the campaign.

The House GOP agenda includes several bills meant to showcase Republican promises to roll back regulations.  One bill that the House will debate, the Regulatory Integrity Act sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., would require agencies to post information about proposed regulations on their websites.

“We know the American people aren't happy with the direction our country is heading, and they are desperate for an alternative vision,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a message to House Republicans.

One of the biggest issues pending in Congress other than the budget is an energy bill. Supporters had hoped Senate and House negotiators could reach agreement in time for Congress to pass the measure this month.

But time is running out and there are lingering disagreements over provisions that have little to do with energy, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the California drought. House Natural Resources, Committee Chair Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in particular, is resisting the Senate energy bill's provision for permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Lets Talk Food

The House-Senate conference committee is scheduled to meet Thursday morning, giving members a chance to list their priorities and warn about potential deal-breakers. The result could be either an impasse, or what Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski and the committee's ranking Democrat, Maria Cantwell, hope for - agreement to drop the contested provisions and write an energy bill focused just on points of relatively bipartisan agreement.

Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Cantwell, D-Wash., say House Republicans agreed not to push for provisions that President Obama would veto.

Also this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) is wrapping up work on a set of recommendations for promoting coexistence among biotech and non-biotech farming at local levels.

The eight recommendations in the draft report promote distribution of two documents the committee has prepared, one entitled "A Model for Convening Local Coexistence Discussions" and the other is "Factors for Farmers to Consider When You or Your Neighbor Are Growing an Identity-Preserved (IP) Crop."

Another recommendation suggests USDA consider seeking legal authority to provide incentives to farmers to develop joint coexistence plans. USDA lawyers told the committee it currently lacks the authority to offer such incentives.

The committee is chaired by Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

Rural phone service gets some congressional attention this week, too. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday on a bill, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act, that would require intermediate providers to register with the Federal Communications Commission and comply with the agency's service quality standards.

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The bill is sponsored by Rep. David Young, an Iowa Republican who is in a tough re-election race.

President Obama is in Hangzhou, China, for the G20 summit until Monday, when he heads to Vientiane, Laos for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Obama returns to Washington on Friday.

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

Monday, Sept. 5

Federal holiday

Tuesday, Sept. 6

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

Wednesday, Sept. 7

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosts a national media call to announce new funding for rural small businesses.

USDA's Advisory Committee on Animal Health meeting, through Thursday, Williamsburg Room, 104-A, Whitten Building.

9 a.m. - USDA releases annual Household Food Security report.

Thursday, Sept. 8

USDA's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC 21) meeting, through Friday, U.S. Access Board Conference Room, 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 800

Vilsack speaks to the AC21 committee, the Community Anti-Drugs Coalition of America luncheon and the GreenGov Annual Symposium on energy efficiency.

Advisory Committee on Animal Health meeting continues.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman speaks at International Trade Commission centennial event.

9:30 a.m. - House-Senate conference committee meeting on energy legislation, 106 Dirksen.

2 p.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on rural telephone quality and reliability, 2123 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. - Heritage Foundation hosts panel discussion, “Addressing Agricultural Risk: Private Solutions, Not Government Intervention,” Capitol Senate Visitor Center, Room 201

Friday, Sept. 9

Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture meeting continues.

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

Jonathan Harsch and Steve Davies contributed to this report.

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