Washington Week Ahead: Trade, regulations, spending top lawmakers agenda

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 31, 2015 -Lawmakers face a long to-do list as they head into June, starting with finishing work on a fast-track trade bill, moving fiscal 2016 appropriations measures and addressing a variety of regulations that Republicans want to block.

Both chambers are returning from the weeklong Memorial Day recess with only one more break, for July 4, before lawmakers head home for August.

The Senate passed its version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill (HR1314) just ahead of the recess. House GOP leaders say they'll take it up in June but haven't announced a schedule yet. GOP leaders have been working to shore up support among conservatives knowing that the vast majority of Democrats will vote against TPA.

In a global economy, we need more American trade to increase prosperity. When we open new markets to American goods and consumers, it's the people who benefit with jobs and lower prices,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a June scheduling memo to members. “However, when America steps back from the world stage, other countries, like China, step in to dictate the rules of the global economy according to their own interests.”

Two top issues for agriculture interests, a repeal of the country-of-origin labeling regulations for meat (HR 2393) and reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (HR 2289), are on the House floor schedule for the week of June 8.

Lets Talk Food

Both measures are expected to face strong Democratic opposition although they had some Democratic support on the House Agriculture Committee. The House committee's ranking Democrat, however, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, opposes both bills. He argues that the COOL repeal is premature and the rollback to Dodd-Frank regulations in the CFTC bill is unnecessary.

This week, the House will debate GOP plan to ease restrictions on fisheries through a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (HR 1335). The bill, which is opposed by the White House, would give regional councils more leeway in managing fisheries.

Republican leaders in both the House and Senate face a struggle to move their fiscal 2016 appropriations bills in June and July. Democrats are vowing to block spending bills from moving in the Senate unless Republicans agree to increase the spending levels. That would require a broad new agreement on spending akin to the agreementthat increased spending for fiscal 2014 and 2015 beyond the levels imposed by a 2011 budget law.

The House has passed three of its 12 spending bills so far; no spending billshave moved to the Senate floor yet. The House and Senate appropriations committees are expected to take up the Agriculture bill, which funds Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration, later this month.

Republicans also will be sharpening attacks in coming days on several regulatory issues. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is promising to move a bill (S 1140) this summer to kill the Clean Water Act rule issued by the Obama administration to sharpen the definition of what streams, ditches and wetlands can be regulated as “waters of the United States.” He has not announced a date for the markup.

Republicans also are taking aim at the administration's menu labeling rule that takes effect Dec. 1 for restaurants, supermarket delis and other establishments. A bipartisan group of senators appealed to the Food and Drug Administration in May to delay the implementation.

But the supermarket industry and pizza chains are seeking to have the rule rewritten, and a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing Thursday on a bill (HR 2017) they support sponsored by a member of the GOP leadership, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Among other things, the bill would allow calorie counts for pizza to be reported in ranges rather than specific numbers.

As GOP leaders win support for the TPA bill, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman heads to Berlin this week to continue meetings on a trade deal with the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Meanwhile, USDA's undersecretary for farm and foreign agriculture services, Michael Scuse, will be leading a trade delegation this week to the Dominican Republic and Panama, seeking to take advantage of relatively new trade deals that are already on the books.

He'll be accompanied by representatives of 19 companies and trade associations as well as officials from the state agriculture departments in Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon and Tennessee.

“With strong economic growth expected to continue, the region holds significant untapped market potential for U.S. exporters,” Scuse said.

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

Monday, June 1

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden will discuss new farmer opportunities with GrowNYC at Union Square Farmers Market in New York City.

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

Tuesday, June 2

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman travels to Berlin for meetings on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the farm economy, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing into perspectives on the Export-Import Bank,

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Western drought, 366 Dirksen.

5 p.m. - Farm Credit Salute to Farmer Veterans, Cannon Caucus Room.

Wednesday, June 3

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosts the Farmers Veteran Coalition at USDA.

USTR's chief agriculture negotiator, Darci Vetter, speaks at World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on EPA's proposed standard for ground-level ozone,

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on foreign agricultural subsidies, 1300 Longworth.

10:30 a.m. - House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee markup of fiscal 2016 spending bill, H-140 Capitol.

2 p.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on discussion draft of the Returning Resilience to our Overgrown, Fire-prone National Forests Act of 2015, 1324 Longworth.

Thursday, June 4

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

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on menu labeling, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Banking oversight hearing on the Export-Import Bank, 538 Dirksen.

1:15 p.m. - Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on the federal regulatory process, 342 Dirksen.

Friday, June 5

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