Washington Week Ahead: House debates COOL as fast-track vote nears

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 7, 2015 - A slew of trade and regulatory issues that are critical to agriculture will see action on both sides of Capitol Hill this week.

The House is scheduled to vote on repealing the country-of-origin labeling law (COOL) for meat this week and also could take up the sweeping Trade Promotion Authority bill. House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said late last week that GOP leaders were “within striking distance” of having the votes to pass TPA.

Meanwhile, Republicans on both sides of the Hill will take new steps in attacking President Obama's regulatory agenda.

The House Appropriations Committee will roll out its fiscal 2016 Interior-Environment spending bill, which could include provisions attacking a number of regulations, including the ‘waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, greenhouse gas regulations and endangered species listings.

The Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee is set to mark up the bill Wednesday morning at the same time the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will begin moving a bill (S 1140) aimed at striking down the WOTUS rule, which re-defines what wetlands, ditches and ponds fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Backers of COOL repeal look to send message

There's little question that the House will vote to repeal COOL, especially with Mexico and Canada seeking approval from the World Trade Organization to impose $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports over the labeling regulations. The question is how big the margin this week will be.

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House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told Agri-Pulse that a big vote for the bill (HR 2393) would put pressure on the Senate to take up a repeal measure. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., hasn't said yet what he will do. “That's obviously part of the strategy, getting the biggest vote we can get,” Conaway said. The debate is scheduled for Wednesday.

The House committee approved the repeal bill, 38-6, with support from 13 Democrats.

Conaway is likely to have a much more difficult time getting Democratic support for a second bill he'll have on the floor this week, a reauthorization measure for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that would roll back some Dodd-Frank regulations and require the agency to analyze the cost and benefits of all new rules.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill (HR 2289), and just two Democrats voted last week for the rule that set the terms for debate on the legislation.

 

Two less controversial bills that came out of House Agriculture in April are set for swift approval Tuesday on the House suspension calendar. The bills would extend laws that set standards for grain inspection (HR 2088) and mandate livestock price reporting (HR2051).

 

The bills contain provisions intended to ensure that grain inspections continue in the event of labor disputes, such as the one that disrupted inspections in Washington state last summer, and that USDA maintains livestock price reporting during a government shutdown.

House leaders warn of possible votes on TPA, other trade bills

The decision by House GOP leaders to place TPA (HR 1314) on this week's agenda for possible action would appear to back up Ryan's assessment that the GOP had all but locked down a majority. But the prospect of a vote also could push more undecided lawmakers into taking a position. TPA backers have been saying for weeks that some House members won't take sides on the issue until the vote is looming.

President Obama spent last week lobbying for Democratic votes for TPA before jetting to Europe for a two-day G-7 summit in Germany.

TPA has broad support from farm groups, but the National Farmers Union on Friday called for its defeat and said the organization would score the vote, arguing among other things that new trade deals could kill off-farm jobs that many producers need. “Job losses due to the trade deficit are a primary concern of NFU,” the group said.

When the House does take up TPA, it will also vote on related measures that authorize trade enforcement provisions and duty-free treatment for imports from developing countries.

WOTUS bill could give boost to appropriations riders

Republicans are fighting the WOTUS rule on two fronts - standalone bills that would kill the rule and appropriations provisions that would bar its implementation in fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1.

The House-passed Energy and Water spending bill, which funds the Army Corps of Engineers, already contains the rider to block enforcement of the rule in fiscal 2016, and similar provisions are expected to be included in both the House and Senate versions of the Interior-Environment bill, which is always one of the most controversial.

It will be a top priority of Republicans to include such a rider in whatever final spending bill or bills go to Obama later this year. They will have a better chance of getting him to accept the provision if there is significant support for the standalone bills that would kill the rule.

The Senate bill that Environment and Public Works will vote on this Wednesday would force the administration to rewrite the rule.

Supporters are optimistic that they could get 60 votes to break a Democratic filibuster, but it would take 67 to overcome a certain presidential veto. The House passed a similar version of the bill May 12, but the margin was well short of veto-proof.

The final rule, issued May 27, included some changes intended to address concerns raised by farm groups. Erosional features and tile drainage from fields are specifically exempted from regulation, for example. But experts say the final rule actually expands the government's jurisdiction over wetlands beyond what was originally proposed a year ago.

The bill has 36 cosponsors, just three of whom are Democrats. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

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

Monday, June 8

American Agri-Women Fly-In, through June 10, Holiday Inn at the Capitol.

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


Tuesday, June 9  

9:30 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on energy accountability and reform legislation, 366 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup of State Department authorization bill, 419 Dirksen.

Wednesday, June 10

President Obama's Export Council meeting to make recommendations for increasing exports.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting to consider bill (S 1140) to replace the Clean Water Act rule redefining the “waters of the United States,” 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the “Past, present and future of SNAP: The means to climbing the economic ladder,” 1300 Longworth.

10:15 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee to mark up the fiscal 2016 spending bill that includes the EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, B-308 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the first anniversary of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, 2167 Rayburn.

Noon - USDA releases World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates and Crop Production report.

Thursday, June 11

Rural policy summit sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Capitol Hill Hyatt.

Tenth meeting of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Commission under the United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement.

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

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on conservation programs, 1300 Longworth.

Friday, June 12

9:30 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the EPA's proposal to lower the ground-level ozone standard.

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