Washington Week Ahead: GOP looks to keep government open amid House turmoil

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2015 - Despite the turmoil in the House GOP caucus, Republican congressional leaders are ready to pass a stopgap funding bill this week to avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends Wednesday.

Even as House Speaker John Boehner stunned Washington on Friday with the announcement that he was leaving his job and Congress, GOP leaders were readying a strategy to keep the government running when fiscal 2016 starts Thursday, while ensuring that legislative attacks on Planned Parenthood would continue.

Boehner said flatly on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday that there wouldn't be a shutdown, al-though he acknowledged that he will need Democratic support to pass the funding bill. “I expect my Democratic colleagues want to keep the government funded as much as I do,” he said.

House conservatives and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have been demanding that any continuing resolution to keep the government in operation also defund Planned Parenthood. But Democrats last week blocked a Senate version that would have done that.

So Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has set up a vote Monday afternoon on a clean CR to keep the government running through the fall, and the House should take up the measure by Wednesday. The CR would give Republicans time to try to negotiate a government-wide spending bill with the White House.

The new House GOP strategy calls for setting up a select committee to investigate Planned Parenthood and making another attempt to defund the organization through a reconciliation measure that wouldn't require 60 votes in the Senate, and thus couldn't be blocked from getting to the White House for an expected veto.

Lets Talk Food Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who outlined the strategy in the GOP weekly address, said Republicans were intent on “getting to the bottom of these horrific practices,” referring to the alleged sale of organs from aborted fetuses.

Democrats raised the stakes of a government shutdown by disclosing last week that the Agriculture Department was preparing to block the issuance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in 37 states on Thursday, if funding is allowed to lapse.

But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that the department was also ready to ensure that the benefits go out on time. “In the event that Congress completes its work on the budget … we would have the least amount of disruption to SNAP recipients as possible,” he said.

The bigger question for Capitol Hill is whether the new Republican leadership will have the backing from the fractious caucus to negotiate a fiscal 2016 budget deal as well as a long-term highway bill. A budget agreement is critical to agriculture because it is probably the only way to block some parts of the Obama administration's regulatory agenda.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents a heavily agricultural portion of California's Central Valley, is the favorite to become speaker, but there could well be fights for the other leadership slots. Boehner's fall “makes it all the more challenging” to get a budget deal, said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Also on Monday, the House is scheduled to clear a compromise bill reauthorizing grain inspection standards and livestock price reporting. The bill, which passed the Senate with unanimous consent last week, also includes an extension of the National Forest Foundation Act.

The bill (HR 2051) includes a key compromise sought by grain traders that could allow private inspections of grain when government inspectors are unavailable because of a labor disruption. Both the buyers and sellers would have to agree that the private inspections would be sufficient.

Meanwhile this week, the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks have resumed in Atlanta with a meeting of chief negotiators that is supposed to run through Tuesday. Trade ministers from the TPP are scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday.

The Canadian news service, CBCNews,  reported last week that Canada was preparing to make a major concession on dairy policy, opening up its domestic market to imports.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said last week that negotiators are making “steady progress,” but he stopped short of saying he was confident the deal would be done in time to get through Congress next year.

Also in Washington this week, the United Fresh Produce Association is holding its annual D.C.  policy conference, and reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will be the top item on the agenda as United Fresh members hit Capitol Hill.

The law also expires Wednesday but lawmakers are still struggling to reach agreement on an extension. The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, told Agri-Pulse that there was “work still to be done” on policy disagreements and that she didn't expect a deal before the Columbus Day recess.

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

Monday, Sept. 28

All day - United Fresh Produce Association's Washington conference.

All day - Trans-Pacific Partnership chief negotiators, Atlanta.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to the International Association of Agricultural Production Insurers International Congress in Kansas City.

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

Tuesday, Sept. 29

All day - United Fresh conference.

All day - TPP chief negotiators meeting, Atlanta.

Vilsack visits the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on university research, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “Economy-wide Implications of President Obama's Air Agenda,” 406 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on national forest management, 1334 Longworth.

2 p.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works hearing on the Endangered Species Act, with perspectives of the Fish and Wildlife Service and state governors, 406 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing on pipeline safety, 253 Russell.

Wednesday, Sept. 30

All day - United Fresh conference.

All day - TPP ministerial meeting, Atlanta.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden tours the Duke University Campus Farm in Durham, N.C., conducts a roundtable on agriculture policy at Duke's Nicholas School of Environmental Management.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on international food aid, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing on state authority of resource management and energy development, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on restoring the Great Lakes, 2167 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Army Corps of Engineers' role in development of the Clean Water Act rule, 406 Dirksen.

Thursday, Oct. 1

All day - TPP ministerial meeting, Atlanta.

Harden speaks to students at the North Carolina A&T University's School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences in Greensboro.

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

10 a.m. - Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting on nomination of Ann Calvaresi Barr to be inspector general of the Agency for International Development, 419 Dirksen.

Friday, Oct. 2

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