Washington Week Ahead: Shutdown looms as lawmakers eye exit

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2016 - Lawmakers are eager to get home to campaign but first have to take care of some critical unfinished business this week, starting with a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after the new fiscal year starts on Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a continuing resolution last week that would fund the government until Dec. 9, but Democrats promptly denounced the measure for not including aid to Flint, Michigan, to fix its drinking water problems.

“Republicans in Congress have some more work to do to make sure that the government doesn't shut down,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday. He said it was “unclear” whether President Obama would sign the CR in its current form.

Also this week, the House is expected to pass a water projects development bill, a top priority for agricultural shippers, and leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee are hopeful they can win floor passage of a long-stalled child nutrition reauthorization bill.

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place Monday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Lester Holt of NBC News will be the moderator. The debate is scheduled for an hour and a half.

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack will discuss the debate and the 2016 campaign Tuesday morning at an event sponsored by The Washington Post. The event will be live-streamed by the Post.

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Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the legal challenge to the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which places limits on greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has played a lead role in fighting the regulations because of the impact they would have on its coal-dependent members. NRECA's lawsuit against EPA was consolidated into the case the appeals court is considering.

A federal government shutdown could theoretically shut down this weekend if lawmakers doesn't pass a continuing resolution before Saturday, but there is no appetite in Congress for that.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Flint funding should be dealt with through the water projects bill. But Senate Democrats, including the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, are demanding that it be folded into the CR.

“To see the continuing resolution come to the floor with help for Louisiana and not for the families of Flint, it's outrageous. It's just outrageous,” said Stabenow, referring to flood relief contained in the bill.

Hardline conservatives in the House wanted to see the CR extended into the new year to prevent a lame duck Congress from passing legislation. But Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in a C-Span interview that his members were resigned to seeing a lame duck spending bill.

The continuing resolution includes funding for flood relief and to combat the Zika virus, as well as some standard provisions to ensure that USDA can make payments to farmers from the Commodity Credit Corp. and to cover higher costs for food packages distributed through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

Missing from the CR is a provision that farm groups and bankers requested to ensure that USDA could fund a backlog of farm loans this fall. USDA didn't ask for the provision.

Meanwhile, House passage of its water projects measure this week will clear the way for negotiations with the Senate on a final bill that could be passed after the election in a lame duck session.

The Senate version, which passed earlier this month, would authorize $10.6 billion in spending over 10 years, nearly three times as much as the $3.8 billion House bill. The Senate measure also includes a provision exempting some farmers with aboveground fuel storage tanks from EPA requirements to prepare spill control plans.

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Stabenow and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have been looking to finally pass their bipartisan child nutrition bill, under unanimous consent from their colleagues, but several senators have insisted on having time to study the legislation, Roberts said.

The bill, which the committee approved in January, would reauthorize the national school lunch program and nutrition assistance for five years. It would ease rules on sodium on whole grains but broadly preserves the school meal standards the Obama administration implemented under the expired Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

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

Monday, Sept. 26

African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, State Department.

White House Tribal Nations Conference. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will participate in a discussion of issues affecting Native Americans with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

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

5 p.m. - House Rules Committee meeting to consider rule for the Water Resources Development Act (HR5303), H-313 Capitol.

9 p.m. - First presidential debate, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Tuesday, Sept. 27

Feeding America National Food Rescue Summit, through Wednesday, Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center, 3800 Reservoir Rd.

EPA Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel (FIFRA SAP) meeting to review human health and ecological risk assessments for SmartStax PRO corn, through Wednesday, 2777 S. Crystal Dr., Arlington, Virginia.

National Academy of Sciences Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW.

9 a.m. - Vilsack discusses the first presidential debate and the 2016 campaign at The Washington Post Daily 202 Live event, 1301 K Street NW.

9:30 a.m. U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears oral arguments in West Virginia vs. EPA, the challenge to the Clean Power Plan.

 10 a.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on enforcement of trade laws, 1100 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversight hearing on the Federal Trade Commission with the FTC commissioners, 253 Russell.

11 a.m. - House Small Business subcommittee hearing on FAA drone regulations, 2360 Rayburn.

1 p.m. - Assumable waters subcommittee of EPA's National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology webinar meeting.

1:30 p.m. - Vilsack speaks at the Feeding America National Food Rescue Summit.

1:30 p.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing, “Oversight of the Federal Trade Commission: Perspectives from Beyond the Commission,” 253 Russell.

2 p.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on inactivation of dangerous pathogens at USDA and other federal labs, 2322 Rayburn.

3:30 p.m. - Vilsack speaks at the National Academy of Sciences Roundtable on Obesity Solutions.

Wednesday, Sept. 28

FIFRA SAP meeting.

Vilsack speaks on USDA funding of local and regional food systems at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow Conference at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

1 p.m. - Environmental Law Institute forum analyzing oral arguments in West Virginia vs. EPA, 1350 I St. NW

1 p.m. - National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT) assumable waters subcommittee webinar meeting.

Thursday, Sept. 29

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

Noon - Vilsack speaks on opioid abuse at The Atlantic Washington Ideas Forum, Harman Center for the Arts, 610 F Street, NW.

Friday, Sept. 30

U.S. Trade Representative holds public hearing on Russia's Implementation of Its WTO Commitments, 1724 F Street NW

Urban Agriculture and the Next Farm Bill symposium, Jack Morton Auditorium, The George Washington University.

3 p.m. - USDA releases quarterly Hogs and Pigs report.


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