Washington Week Ahead: Agribusiness wary of DHS shutdown; Vilsack, McCarthy face lawmakers

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2015 - The partisan showdown over funding the Department of Homeland Security comes to a head this week with the looming expiration of a stopgap funding bill.

Republicans have insisted on using a bill to fund DHS for the remainder of fiscal 2015 to block the executive actions aimed at allowing many illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Democrats have repeatedly refused to allow the bill to advance in the Senate.

DHS is operating on a continuing resolution that expires Friday. Much of its workforce could continue working even without funding authorization.

However, there is concern that meat processors and other companies would be unable to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of workers, and applications for H-2A agricultural worker visas also could be slowed at a time when farms need to get their workforces ready for the coming growing season, said Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers.

Use of E-Verify is generally not mandatory, but some meatpackers agreed to use it as part of settlement agreements in immigration cases.

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Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Interior Sally Jewell and other top administration officials will be trekking back and forth to Capitol Hill for multiple hearings this week.

Together we can feed the Bees"

Vilsack is set to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday and the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. He then heads to Phoenix where he'll speak to the ethanol industry group Growth Energy on Thursday and on Friday at the Commodity Classic, the grain and oilseeds industries' annual meeting.

In an unusual move, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, has scheduled four farmers, from the South and Midwest, to testify before, not after, Vilsack. Roberts told Agri-Pulse he wants to ensure that “farmers and ranchers and other rural stakeholders have a voice” at the committee.

McCarthy is on the Hill Wednesday and Thursday to testify before subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce, and Appropriations committees respectively. She's almost certain to be grilled again about the agency's proposed greenhouse gas restrictions for power plants and the  proposed rule re-defining the “waters of the United States” regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The House Agriculture Committee plans a pair of oversight hearings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that could lay the groundwork for GOP attempts to make deeper cuts in food stamps than Republicans were able to achieve through the new farm bill.

Committee chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, hasn't said whether he'll propose new cuts to SNAP, only that he wanted to do a “soup-to-nuts” review of the program.But defenders of nutrition assistance fear Republicans are teeing up welfare programs for deep cuts as part of a long-term plan to reduce the deficit through the budget reconciliation process.

The witnesses Wednesday will include Douglas Besharov, a University of Maryland professor who is a leading advocate for welfare-to-work reforms, and Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who will argue against cutting anti-poverty programs to reduce the budget deficit. The subcommittee hearing Thursday will focus on research that's been done on how SNAP works.

This also is a key time for President Obama's trade agenda. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the panel's ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden, have been negotiating the terms of a bill that would give Obama trade promotion authority, seen as a critical step to wrapping up the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Hatch, had set a target of releasing the TPA bill this week, and he has scheduled a trade hearing for Thursday, but Wyden, made clear Friday that he hadn't yet agreed to the terms of a TPA bill.

Administration officials are maintaining their advocacy for TPA, however. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will speak to the National Association of Counties on Monday.

According to a report in The Hill, some Senate Republicans are looking to avoid a shutdown of DHS by allowing separate votes on Obama's executive actions.

A Texas judge threw a new wrinkle into the Homeland Security funding issue last week by blocking the administration from beginning the application process for deferrals, the action targeted by congressional Republicans. “Nobody has a good feel for what this is going to do for the DHS funding bill,” said Gasperini.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has been arguing against another stopgap spending bill, which he said limits the department's ability to upgrade equipment along the border and to address other needs. “We need a fully funded Department of Homeland Security unburdened by efforts to defund our efforts to fix the immigration system. That's what we need. That's what the public needs for the sake of public safety,” he told CNN.

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

Monday, Feb. 23

All day - National Potato Council annual fly-in, Mayflower Hotel.

All day - USA Rice Federation government affairs conference, Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

 

All day - National Association of Counties legislative conference, Marriott Wardman Park.Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will speak in the morning.


Tuesday, Feb. 24

All day -FDA, CDC and USDA hold a public meeting on updated estimates of sources of foodborne illness, USDA Jefferson Auditorium

All day - National Association of Counties legislative conference.

All day - USA Rice Federation government affairs conference.

 

7:30 a.m. - Darcy Vetter, chief agricultural trade negotiator, addresses the National Potato Council fly-in.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on implementation of the farm bill, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and business meeting on pending Farm Credit Administration nominations, 328A Russell.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on budget issues with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, 366 Dirksen.

Noon - USDA releases Crop Values Annual Summary.

Wednesday, Feb. 25

All day - Building a Healthier Future 2015, Washington Hilton.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Vilsack, 2362-A Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the SNAP program, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittees hold hearing with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on U.S.-Asia policy, 2172 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy, 2200 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the president's budget request for the Coast Guard and maritime transportation, 2167 Rayburn.

10:15 a.m. - House Judiciary Committee hearing on the constitutionality of the president's executive actions on immigration, 2141 Rayburn.

1 p.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Interior Secretary Jewell, B-308 Rayburn.

1 p.m. - House Budget Committee hearing with members of Congress, 210 Cannon.

1 p.m. -EPA's Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee webinar.

3 p.m. - USDA releases Poultry Slaughter reports.

Thursday, Feb. 26 

All day - Building a Healthier Future 2015. First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at noon.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations hearing on USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, 2362-A Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing with Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on “Congress and U.S. Tariff Policy,” 215 Dirksen.

1 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the SNAP program, focusing on the characteristics of program participants, 1300 Longworth.

1 p.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations hearing with EPA's McCarthy, B-308 Rayburn.

2 p.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the impact of air and water regulations, 2247 Rayburn.

 

Friday, Feb. 27

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2362-A Rayburn.

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