Washington Week Ahead: Budget, biotechnology and WOTUS

By Sarah Gonzalez

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By Sarah Gonzalez and Philip Brasher

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2015--Budget resolutions will be on the floor this week in both the House and Senate and, with little or no Democrat support available, Republican leaders need to keep as many GOP votes as possible. The House and Senate Budget committees approved their respective budgets on party-line votes Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can only afford to lose three votes and still pass a budget. The Senate is expected to have a marathon vote-a-rama where a wide range of amendments will be considered, including some attacking crop insurance. Because the budget resolution doesn't become law, the amendments are non-binding, but Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he would likely use the process to have “test votes” on cuts to crop insurance, with an eye toward later offering binding amendments to the agriculture appropriations bill that funds USDA.

Farm-state senators will argue that the farm bill should be left alone. “We have five-year economic certainty for rural America and families, and it would be very unfortunate if that is undermined,” said Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Lets Talk Food

Asked if he was concerned about the test votes, Sen. Chuck Grassley said, "When you've got a $400 billion deficit you've got to be concerned about everything. There are probably places that can be saved but usually when you work hard to pass a farm bill you try to keep it to the five years we have it, and the certainty that goes with it.”

This week will indicate how Republican leaders might govern for the rest of this Congress, and whether House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, can maintain support from conservatives in the House.

During a meeting Monday, the House Rules Committee may try to address the concerns of House defense hawks who want more defense spending through the rule that governs which amendments will be allowed.

One conservative, Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said he would hold his nose and vote for the resolution just to ensure that there is a vehicle later on to address the Affordable Care Act should the Supreme Court rule against the program's subsidies. Passing a budget resolution allows the House and Senate to use the reconciliation process that bypasses the usual 60-vote threshold for moving legislation in the Senate.

“While there are parts of the budget that really give me heartburn I'm trying to keep the end goal in sight,” said Salmon.

Also this week, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., continues the scrutiny of the Environmental Protection Agency's “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) proposed rule with a full committee hearing that will include testimony from several state government officials from Arkansas, North Carolina, Kansas and Washington, as well as several other stakeholders.

The House Agriculture Committee will hold a full committee hearing on “mandatory biotechnology laws,” where International Food Information Council (IFIC) CEO David Schmidt will highlight the 2014 Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey, with a special emphasis on consumers and labeling.The hearing is expected to set the stage for legislation being drafted by Congressman Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.

Later this week, Pompeo, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, is widely expected to introduce his bill that would create federal labeling standards for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. The bill is expected to be a slightly modified version of the bill he introduced last year, named the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014.” That version gave the Food and Drug Administration sole authority to require mandatory labeling on GMO foods - only if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GMO ingredients.

Other House Agriculture subcommittee hearings will focus on reauthorizing the agency tasked with overseeing swaps and futures markets, one on country-of-origin labeling, and another covering 2014 Farm Bill implementation.

Also this week, The Food and Beverage Environmental Conference begins Sunday and ends Thursday this week in Point Clear, Alabama. The National Institute for Animal Agriculture holds its annual conference Monday-Thursday in Indianapolis.

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

Monday, March 23

5:00 p.m. - House Rules Committee meets to establish the U.S. budget for FY 2016 and set budgetary levels for FY 2017 through 2025, H-313 Capitol.

Tuesday, March 24

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on mandatory biotechnology laws, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations hearing onUSDA research agencies, 2362-A Rayburn.

10:00 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on EPA's proposed “Waters of the United States” rule, 106 Dirksen.

10:00 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on improving the nation's forest system, 366 Dirksen.

11:00 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the internet and technology, 2123 Rayburn.

11:00 a.m. House Financial Services Appropriations hearing on the Federal Communications Commission, 2359 Rayburn.

1:00 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on reauthorizing Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 1300 Longworth

Wednesday, March 25

9:00 a.m. - House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2358-A Rayburn

10:00 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on potential retaliatory measures taken against the United States in response to meat labeling requirements, 1300 Longworth.

1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on reauthorizing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 1300 Longworth.

2:00 p.m. - House Judiciary Committee hearing on the FCC's Net Neutrality rule, 2141 Rayburn.

3:00 p.m. - Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2016 funding request and budget justification for the U.S. Department of Energy, 124 Dirksen.

Thursday, March 26

9:00 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on implementing the farm bill's commodity and crop insurance programs.

9:00 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service's Energy and Minerals Programs, 1324 Longworth.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Administration's Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), 366 Dirksen.

Friday, March 27

No events currently scheduled.

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