Washington Week Ahead: Senate prepares for TPA debate, examines school nutrition

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 3, 2015 -The Senate could take up its fast-track trade bill as soon as this week, with supporters hoping a solid majority will give the legislation needed momentum in the House.

Republicans and the White House are still looking for votes among House GOP conservatives and Democrats. House members have scattered back to their districts this week, with the chamber in recess.

“We're getting into the ninth inning,” said Rep. Ron Kind, one of 30 Democrats who met for an hour and half with President Obama last week before House members left town. House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, told Agri-Pulse he's hoping for support from at least 15 to 20 Democrats and that the bill could be on the floor soon after the House returns.

The Senate GOP conference chairman, John Thune of South Dakota, said he hopes to have as many as 65 Senate votes for the Trade Promotion Authority bill (S 995) which would ensure that trade agreements get an up-or-down vote in Congress without any chance of amendment.

First, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., needs to move a bill to review a nuclear agreement with Iran. That effort bogged down last week in an internal GOP fight over amendments, but Senate aides say there was a good chance the Senate would take up the fast-track trade bill by the end ofthe week.

As the search for TPA support goes on in Congress, the administration continues to work on new trade agreements. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman meets Monday with the European Union trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, for negotiations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and then Froman heads for Malaysia for more Trans-Pacific Partnership meetings.

Lets Talk Food

Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee is gearing up to deal with several issues on its agenda by holding hearings on child nutrition programs and the federal Grain Standards Act. Both the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized the Agriculture Department to set new standards for schools meals, and the grain inspection law are due to expire Sept. 30.

The Senate committee has a hearing Tuesday on grain standards and Thursday on child nutrition.

Committee member John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, introduced a key bill last week that would roll back the current, 100-percent whole grain requirement for school meals and prevent USDA from further lowering the sodium limit. Starting last July, USDA increased the whole-grain requirement in schools from 50 percent to 100 percent. The bill would return it to 50 percent.

“We want to make sure that our schools can serve healthy and nutritious meals that our students like, while also making their budgets,” Hoeven said.

A new authorization bill is unlikely to become law before Sept. 30, but GOP appropriators in the House and Senate will be watching progress on the authorization bill and could easily address the issue in the fiscal 2016 USDA spending bill. Hoeven is a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Neither Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, nor House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., have announced a timetable for moving a reauthorization bill. Kline has jurisdiction over the issue in the House.

The key issue with the grain standards bill is what it will do to ensure that export grain inspections continue during labor disputes. The House Agriculture Committee approved a bill (HR 2088) last week that would allow inspectors from other states to fill in. Grain companies want authorization for private inspectors, too, but the House panel wouldn't go that far.

Last summer Washington inspectors refused to go to work at the Port of Vancouver during a labor demonstration, citing safety concerns. Washington is one of five states where state agencies conduct export inspections under authority of USDA.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is heading to Turkey for aG20 agriculture ministers meeting Thursday and Friday and then will fly to Jordan to sign a government-to-government food assistance agreement. The G20 meeting will focus on food security.

Vilsack is heading to the G20 meeting seeking a focus on post-harvest loss and food waste as well as technology.

“From the U.S. perspective, reducing post-harvest loss and food waste play a major role in this effort,” Vilsack said.

“We also believe that nations must acknowledge the important role that science plays in increasing crop production and the role that open, rules-based trade can play in growing economies and fostering food security in the face of a changing climate,” he said.

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

Monday, May 4

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman meets with EUTrade Commissioner CeciliaMalmströmfor negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Secretary Vilsack will announce the Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) availability of funding in Denver, Colorado. He will tour the Denver Stockyard Renovation project and also participate in a joint tour at Droplet Measurement Technologies with Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg.

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

Tuesday, May 5

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

10 a.m. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on legal implications of the Obama administration's Clean Power plan, 406 Dirksen.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Securities Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 138 Dirksen.

11 a.m. - Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden speaks at Natural Resources Conservation Service event in Keymar, Md., highlighting the use of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on authorization of grain standards, 328-A Russell.

1:30 p.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on surface transportation reauthorization, 253 Russell.

Wednesday, May 6

9:30 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Workers hearing on bills addressing endangered species issues, 406 Dirksen.

3 p.m. - USDA releases U.S. Agricultural Trade Data

Thursday, May 7

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

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture holds hearing on child nutrition programs, 216 Hart.

10 a.m.  - Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on rural health, 124 Dirksen.

Friday, May 8

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