Washington Week Ahead: Spending, school nutrition head long congressional to-do list

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2015 - Congress returns to work with a long list of unfinished business to deal with this fall, including the budget, a long-term highway bill and a reauthorization of child nutrition programs.

The Iran nuclear agreement will dominate lawmakers attention in coming days. The House is scheduled this week to debate a resolution of disapproval of the agreement, although the White House already has sufficient Democratic support in Congress to upheld a veto of the measure.

The fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized the Agriculture Department to raise school nutrition standards, expires the same day. Highway funding expires at the end of October.

Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution this month to keep the government running while Republican leaders negotiate with the White House over spending levels. We'll be discussing with the president how to resolve our differences, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

Agriculture has a big stake in the spending negotiations in part because Republicans want to use the fiscal 2016 legislation to block key parts of the administration's regulatory agenda, including the rule re-defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Implementation of the waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) began in August in all but 13 states where it was blocked by a judge's ruling. We're going to continue to work to try to stop it, McConnell said of the rule.

Together we can feed the Bees"

Reauthorizing child nutrition programs isn't urgent - the meal standards won't be affected by the expiration of the law - but passing a reauthorization bill that maintains the standards would provide them some permanency.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week will step up the administration's effort to preserve the standards. He will appear at a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on Tuesday to make his case, joined by representatives of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There is growing acceptance for those healthier meals, so we want to continue that progress going forward, said Pew's director of child nutrition, Jessica Donze Black.

The chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, have been trying to work out details of a new bill, and Roberts has scheduled a markup for Sept. 17.

Vilsack told Agri-Pulse last week that he is cautiously optimistic that Congress can agree on a bill, but he made clear that he is going to insist that the standards aren't lowered.

Also this week, the department will release its barometer of hunger in the country, the Household Food Security report, which will say whether any progress was made last year in reducing food insecurity. The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure was unchanged from 2012 to 2013.

Vilsack on Wednesday will deliver the keynote address at the 2015 National Rural Assembly, a conference that focuses on way to reduce rural poverty and bolster rural development.

About 140 people representing advocacy groups, rural development organizations, universities and government agencies, have signed up for the conference. There will be a special focus on getting foundations to provide more money to needed projects.

Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere: (If you'd like more insider information about what's happening on Capitol Hill for farm, food and rural issues, sign up for a free trial subscription to Agri-Pulse: http://www.agri-pulse.com/Free-Trial.asp )

Monday, Sept. 7

Labor Day

Tuesday, Sept. 8

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman meets with the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations and with the chairman of the Vietnamese National Assembly, Sinh Hung.

11 a.m. - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appears at National Press Club Newsmaker news conference.

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

Wednesday, Sept. 9

All day - National Rural Assembly, Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.

All day - Meeting of USDA's National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, Residence Inn by Marriott, 333 E St. SW.

9 a.m. - USDA releases annual Household Food Security in the U.S. report.

9:45 p.m. - Vilsack speaks at the National Rural Assembly.

10 a.m. - House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the EPA and the Animas River spill, 2318 Rayburn.  

2 p.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on agricultural trade with Cuba, 2200 Rayburn.

Thursday, Sept. 10

All day - National Rural Assembly.

All day - National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods.

Vilsack tours the University of Illinois energy farm at Champaign and hosts a national press call to make an announcement on biofuels.

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

10 a.m. - House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee hearing on vulnerabilities of U.S. power supply, 2318 Rayburn.

Noon - Cato Institute sponsors panel on “E-Verify: The Impact of National Employment Verification on Work, Privacy, and Liberty,” B-340 Rayburn.

Friday, Sept. 11

All day - National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods.

Vilsack speaks at Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food funding conference in Chicago, hosted by USDA's Rural Development office in Illinois, the Illinois Farm Bureau and others. 

9 a.m. - House Space, Science and Technology subcommittee hearing, State Perspectives: How EPA's Power Plan Will Shut Down Power Plants, 2318 Rayburn.

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

(Jeff Nalley contributed to this report.)

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