Washington Week Ahead: Trump meets with GOP leaders, biotech talks continue

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 8, 2016 - Donald Trump tries to win over congressional Republicans as lawmakers return to work this week facing some major unfinished business, including negotiations on biotech food labeling.

With Trump having disposed of his remaining GOP challengers last week, Republicans now face questions about whether and how closely to align themselves with Trump and how to address sharp policy differences on trade and other issues.

Trump has meetings planned Thursday with the House GOP leadership and then separately with Speaker Paul Ryan and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. The meetings are intended “to begin a discussion about the kind of Republican principles and ideas that can win the support of the American people this November,” according to Ryan's office.

Even without the distraction of the presidential race, a tight legislative schedule between now and the political conventions in July, plus the August recess, already leaves lawmakers with major scheduling challenges.

Food companies are lobbying leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee to hurry up and cut a deal on legislation to preempt state GMO labeling laws before Vermont's takes effect July 1. The industry's lead lobbyist Randy Russell, would say only that the closely held talks are “making progress.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., told Agri-Pulse last week that he thought animal products would likely be exempted from any kind of disclosure requirement.

He said Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., “are working right now, we hope, to put an agreement together. Ninety percent of it is stuff that we all agree on, and I think they're bouncing around the last 10 percent.”

Lets Talk Food

Other sources said the single toughest issue appeared to be still unresolved last week, whether to require food companies to put some kind of wording or symbol on food labels to alert consumers of the presence of biotech ingredients.

Progress on other major issues remains uncertain. The appropriations process has bogged down on both sides of Capitol Hill. In the Senate, Democrats blocked passage of a relatively noncontroversial Energy-Water spending bill before last week's break. House Republicans have been unable to pass a budget because of demands from hard-line conservatives for new cuts to entitlement spending.

As of Sunday, the Senate Appropriations Committee hasn't scheduled any additional action on fiscal 2017 bills, and the House committee has only scheduled a markup this week of its defense measure.

The Trump-Ryan dance will keep Washington riveted. Trump said on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that he was “blindsided” by Ryan's statement last week that he wasn't ready to support Trump.

Some key farm-state Republicans have indicated they will support Trump, including Roberts and Senate GOP Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D. Roberts issued a one-sentence statement saying he would support the party nominee.

Others appear to be edging that way, including the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Jerry Moran. But Moran said in a statement that Trump must first “address the serious concerns many conservatives - myself included - have about some of his positions and comments.”

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, hasn't taken a position on Trump.

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Agribusiness lobbyist Tyson Redpath offered a preview of a possible Trump administration at last week's Animal Agriculture Alliance conference. Redpath, senior vice president of The Russell Group, said Trump would likely reduce what he called White House micromanagement and make some unconventional cabinet picks. “Imagine a secretary of agriculture that develops an agenda and is able to pursue that with vigor,” Redpath said.

He said a Hillary Clinton administration would “be something we in this town are more accustomed to.”

USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service will release results on Thursday of a new survey of beekeepers. The report, which will cover 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, will include state-level estimates on number of colonies, colonies lost and added, and colony health.

It's the first time USDA has asked beekeepers about the health of their colonies. The surveys are part of an Obama administration strategy to improve the health of pollinator populations.

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

Monday, May 9

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in New Hampshire through Tuesday. He hosts a roundtable discussion with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., at the Nashua Drug Court on a program to fight drug addiction. Later, he tours the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Center for Telehealth in Lebanon.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman holds a roundtable with Business Executives for National Security.

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

Tuesday, May 10

Vilsack speaks at the New Hampshire Governor's Summit on Substance Misuse in Manchester.

Noon - USDA releases monthly WASDE and Crop Production reports.

Wednesday, May 11

Agricultural trade negotiator Darci Vetter speaks to the Western Growers Association.

Froman travels to Rwanda for the World Economic Forum Africa, through Saturday.

All day - Food Waste Summit, Pew Conference Center, 901 E St NW

10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 215 Dirksen.

2:45 p.m. - Vilsack speaks at Food Waste Summit

Thursday, May 12

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

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing, “The Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: The Retailer Perspectives,” 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Center for American Progress forum, “Enhancing Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry in the United States,” with keynote address by Vilsack, 1333 H St. NW,

2 p.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, “Local and State Perspectives on BLM Draft Planning 2.0,” 1324 Longworth.

3 p.m. - USDA releases new Honey Bee Colonies report.

Friday, May 13

No events currently scheduled.

#30

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