Washington Week Ahead: Obama releases budget, USDA, EPA chiefs face lawmakers

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2016 - President Obama releases his fiscal 2017 budget this week as congressional Republicans vow to accelerate debates on appropriations bills amid the heated campaign season.

Also this week, several key administration officials will testify before congressional committees, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Timothy Massad.

In addition, the House will debate a bill (HR 2017) that would make it easier for supermarkets, pizza chains and convenience stores to comply with menu labeling requirements that are scheduled to take effect later this year. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, 36-12, in November with the support of nine Democrats. The House vote is expected Friday.

Even as the president's budget is set for release on Tuesday. congressional appropriators are preparing an aggressive timeline for bringing out the individual 2017 funding bills. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told Agri-Pulse he has more than 100 hearings planned, starting Tuesday, and hopes to have the first of the spending bills on the House floor by April.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls spending for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, will have three hearings this week.

The Senate Appropriations Committee holds its first hearing on Wednesday.

The White House has already rolled out some highlights of the budget, including proposals to boost agricultural research and to make summer meals available to every child eligible for a free or reduced-price school lunch.

The budget also would double funding for clean energy research and development by 2020. The funding will “help the private sector create more jobs faster, lower the cost of clean energy faster, and help clean, renewable power outcompete dirty fuels in every state,” Obama said in his weekend radio address.

The president also is proposing a $10-a-barrel tax on oil that was immediately met with Republican derision on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the tax “outrageous” and said it was part of “his long-term fantasy to stop climate change, no matter that such proposals will cripple the economy.”

Lets Talk Food

The summer feeding expansion, which has no chance in this Congress, would cost $12 billion over 10 years and goes far beyond a more modest proposal included in a child nutrition reauthorization bill pending in the Senate.

Obama is proposing to double spending on agricultural research through USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to $700 million a year. The funding goes to universities and other institutions to fund research on priority issues.

The budget also may include the administration's past attempts to slash crop insurance, even though Vilsack said there is less pressure on his department's budget in the wake of last fall's two-year budget agreement between Obama and GOP congressional leaders. The deal raised caps on domestic spending for both fiscal 2016 and 2017, which begins Oct. 1.

A year ago, the White House proposed $16 billion in cuts to the insurance program, including a cut in premium subsidies for revenue policies with a harvest-price option. At the time, Vilsack said the cuts were needed to compensate for spending reductions imposed by the 2011 budget deal, but the secretary said last week that the proposals were a matter of “good policy.”

Vilsack and EPA's McCarthy will both be on the Hill Thursday, Vilsack before the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee to answer questions about his budget, and McCarthy before the House Agriculture Committee.

McCarthy is likely to get questioned about a range of issues, including the administration's “waters of the United States” rule redefining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

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“We're not going to let WOTUS off the hook. It's too easy a target,” said Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “I'm just appreciative that she would come and give our members a chance to ask questions that we're being asked back home about the EPA.”

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

Monday, Feb. 8

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden speaks at the inaugural Southern Region Women's Agricultural Leadership Summit at the University of Georgia, in Athens.

National Academies of Sciences workshop through Tuesday on electricity usage in rural communities and the challenges and opportunities for increasing efficiency, reducing emissions and costs, and improving resiliency, 500 5th St. NW.

Tuesday, Feb. 9

National Academies of Sciences workshop on electric usage in rural communities continues, all day.

White House releases president's fiscal 2017 budget.

11 a.m. - USDA releases Farm Sector and Household Income Forecast, Economic Research Service webinar at noon.

Noon - USDA releases World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Crop Production reports.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing on “federal interactions with state management of fish and wildlife,” 306 Dirksen.

Wednesday, Feb. 10

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack speaks on the anniversary of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, National Press Club.

USTR's Harden participates in panel discussions on the future of agriculture and on global food security at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California.

Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau annual meeting, though Thursday, Indian Wells, California.

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives annual meeting, though Thursday, Phoenix.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the impacts of predation and conflicting federal statutes on native and endangered fish species, 1334 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the “importance of enacting a new Water Resources and Development Act,” 406 Dirksen.

Noon - American Enterprise Institute forum, “The 2014 Farm Bill: A mid-term-review,” 1150 17th St. NW.

2 p.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on the president's budget, with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, 215 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the CFTC, 2362-A Rayburn.

3 p.m. - House Rules Committee considers rule for floor debate on the Common Sense Nutrition Act, H-313 Capitol.

Thursday, Feb. 11

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

8:30 a.m. - Resources for the Future and the Electric Power Research Institute seminar on strategic modeling of the Clean Power Plan, 1616 P St. NW.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture hearing with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the president's budget with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, 1100 Longworth.

10:30 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations hearing with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, 2362-A Rayburn.

1:30 p.m. - House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Bureau of Reclamation, 2362-B Rayburn.

1:30 p.m. - Agricultural and Applied Economics Association forum, “Dynamics of Farm Profitability,” 328-A Russell.

2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on foot and mouth disease, 1300 Longworth.

3 p.m. - Center for American Progress forum, “Can Climate Change Break the Global Food System?” National Press Club.

Friday, Feb. 12

Vilsack makes a conservation announcement in Savannah, Georgia.

American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, through Monday.

8 a.m. - AAAS symposium on food security.

9:30 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with USDA's inspector general, 2362-A Rayburn.

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