Washington Week Ahead: Republicans press fight with Obama on Keystone, immigration

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2015 - Senate Republicans are looking this week to increase the pressure on President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, while GOP members in the House attempt to block the administration's executive actions on immigration.

It will be a short work week in Washington for lawmakers because of their annual party retreats. Senate Democrats will meet in Baltimore, starting Wednesday, while House and Senate Republicans will convene jointly in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Thursday and Friday. (The House Democratic retreat is later this month.)

The Senate is set to vote Monday evening to limit debate on a Keystone bill. Republicans should easily get the 60 votes they'll need to move toward a final vote on the bill but they have been struggling to get the 67 necessary to overcome a threatened presidential veto.

Republicans hope some amendments that will be considered on the floor will attract more Democratic votes. "Right now we have got about 63 (votes), but we're going to the floor with an open amendment process trying to foster more bipartisanship," North Dakota GOP Sen. Sen. John Hoeven said on Fox News Sunday. Democrats will argue that the Canadian tar sands oil that the pipeline would carry to the Gulf Coast is bad for the environment.

The project took a step forward Friday when the Nebraska Supreme Court cleared the last legal hurdle for the pipeline, upholding a state law that allows the governor to approve the route within the state. The House a few hours later approved its Keystone bill, 266-153, but the margin was 14 votes short of being veto-proof.

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Without the votes to overcome a veto, the debate is destined to be largely symbolic.

The House GOP effort to block President Barack Obama's moves to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation will come on amendments that Republicans will propose to a spending bill, H.R. 240, for the Department of Homeland Security.

The debate is likely to start Monday afternoon in the House Rules Committee, which votes on a rule to make the immigration amendments in order on the floor.

The underlying bill, which is needed to replace a stopgap measure that expires Feb. 27, would provide $10.7 billion for Customs and Border Protection, a $118.7 million increase for fiscal 2014, and $5.96 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a $689.4 million increase targeted in part to beefing up detention programs. The bill would fully fund the E-Verify program for checking the immigration status of new employees.

Also this week, Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., is expected to announce his panel's subcommittee chairmen. There could be a new leader for the Agriculture panel, which writes budgets for the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration.

The subcommittee has a new top Democrat, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who has clashed with the biotech industry, most notably over a now-expired appropriations provision that was intended to guarantee that farmers could continue cultivating genetically engineered crops even when the federal approvals are being challenged in court. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who championed the provision, has been the subcommittee's top Republican, but he could take over another panel, freeing up Agriculture for someone else.

The American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting kicked off Sunday in San Diego. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to hold a news conference at the gathering on Monday morning.

Top administration trade officials will be on the road this week continuing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will be in Lima, Peru, and Mexico City for TPP meetings, while Wendy Cutler, the acting deputy U.S. trade representative, goes to Tokyo for discussions that will include talks about the U.S.-Japan market access dispute.

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

Monday, Jan. 12

All day, American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, San Diego.

Noon, USDA releases annual and monthly Crop Production, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), Grain Stocks, Rice Stocks and Winter Wheat Seedings reports.

5 p.m. - House Rules Committee votes on the rule for debating the Department of Homeland Security spending bill


Tuesday, Jan. 13

All day, American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.

Wednesday, Jan. 14

All day - Senate Democratic retreat in Baltimore.

3 p.m. - USDA releases Broiler Hatchery and National Dairy Product Sales reports.

Thursday, Jan. 15

All day - Democratic retreat in Baltimore and House-Senate Republican joint retreat in Hershey, Pa.

8:30 - USDA releases Weekly Exports Sales.

Friday, Jan. 16

All day - Republican retreat in Hershey.

Noon - USDA releases Peanut Prices.

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