Washington Week Ahead: Highway bill, child nutrition, GMOs on long to-do list

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2015 - With the sobering backdrop of the Paris terrorist attacks, lawmakers return to Capitol Hill facing a long list of unfinished business this week, including a highway bill and child nutrition programs, ahead of the Thanksgiving break.

Surface transportation programs expire on Friday, with the House and Senate still needing to resolve some differences over a long-term bill, though the bill the House passed Nov. 5 closely tracks the Senate version in major respects.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts had set this week as his goal for getting an agreement with his committee's top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, on child nutrition reauthorization.

Hanging over everything is the need for lawmakers to pass a fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill by Dec. 11, less than two weeks after the Thanksgiving recess ends. Also on the to-do list is the renewal of expired tax extenders and passage of legislation to preempt state GMO labeling laws.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, in an interview on CBS' “60 Minutes” on Sunday, said he's looking to show that the Republicans can work with Democrats to address some big issues.

“Look, if we can find common ground, we can on highways, we will on funding the government, hopefully we can on tax policy,” Ryan said. “Those are three things that will produce certainty in this economy in the next few months. Let's do that.”

Stabenow continues to express optimism that the Senate can reach an agreement on child nutrition reauthorization as well as the GMO labeling issue, both of which could be folded into the year-end budget bill, she said in an Agri-Pulse OPEN MIC interview.

Lets Talk Food “If we have bipartisan support, any of these things could be part of our year-end effort,” she said.

Roberts said last week that finishing the child nutrition bill hinged in part on getting cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office for the legislation. Stabenow has been pushing to get more funding in the bill for summer feeding programs, and there also is discussion of boosting farm-to-school efforts, which benefit both growers and schools.

Stabenow also is at the center of negotiations on GMO labeling that would likely require companies to disclose biotech ingredients electronically, via QR codes or on a website, or both. “USDA has been in a very thoughtful way working with folks on how that might be done,” she said.

She indicated that she also has been talking to pro-labeling activists but said the bill needs to get enacted as “soon as possible.” At a Oct. 21 hearing, she said she wanted to see a labeling bill passed by the end of the year.

Also this week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Robert Califf to lead the Food & Drug Administration. FDA has been without a permanent commissioner since Margaret Hamburg stepped down in March.

The House Agriculture Committee will hold another in a series of oversight hearings on international food aid programs. Tuesday's hearing will focus on the impact on the role of the U.S. shipping industry.


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Shippers were in talks earlier this year with the Obama administration about supporting an increase in the amount of aid that is provided in cash or for the purchase of foreign-sourced commodities. But sources who have followed the negotiations say they have stalled amid congressional resistance, in part because the deal would have required providing payments to the shippers.

Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on legislation that would give supermarkets, convenience stores and pizza chains some relief from the FDA's new menu labeling regulations.

Under the bill, supermarket delis and convenience stores wouldn't have to label every product. Instead they could post calorie counts on menu boards. Pizza delivery chains would be allowed to post calorie counts only on their websites instead of in stores as well.

The menu labeling regulations are another issue that GOP lawmakers have said they may seek to address through the omnibus spending bill.

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

Monday, Nov. 16

Darci Vetter, the administration's chief agricultural trade negotiator, speaks to the American Sugarbeet Growers Association's board.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is in the Philippines through Thursday for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, and on to China Nov. 21-24 for the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meeting, where he will be joined by Vetter and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

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

Tuesday, Nov. 17

Food Policy Action releases the group's 2015 National Food Policy Scorecard.

10 a.m. - Joint hearing by House Agriculture and House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittees on shipping policy for international food aid, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination of Robert Califf to be FDA commissioner, 430 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on wildfire management, 366 Dirksen.

4 p.m. - House Energy and Commerce Committee begins markup on the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (HR 2017) and other bills, 2123 Rayburn.

Wednesday, Nov. 18

Vilsack travels to Tokyo to discuss agricultural trade issues with the Japanese government before continuing on to China for the JCCT meeting.

All day - International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) celebrates its 40th anniversary with a series of expert panels on food policy, 2033 K St. NW.

9 a.m. - NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association presents white paper and holds panel discussion on “Beyond Rural Walls: Identifying Impacts and Interdependencies Among Rural and Urban Spaces,” CVC 217.

9:30 a.m. - USDA's Biotechnology Regulatory Service annual stakeholder meeting.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Paris international climate negotiations, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the National Commission on Hunger, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce Committee votes on the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee holds hearing on Protecting America's Recreation and Conservation Act to reform Land and Water Conservation Fund, 1324 Longworth.

Thursday, Nov. 19

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

10:30 a.m. - International Food Policy Research Institute launches Compact2025, an effort to mobilize the world community to end hunger by 2025, 2033 K St. NW.

Friday, Nov. 20

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden speaks on climate adaptation at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, Washington Convention Center.

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