The Washington week ahead: USDA Outlook Forum & the budget battles continue

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Feb. 20 - With both House and Senate members back in their states all this week for the President's Day recess, expect to hear their geiger counts ticking, measuring which is more radioactive: public disgust with runaway federal spending, as Republicans believe - or, as Democrats hope, public outrage over $61 billion in GOP-proposed spending cuts which could trigger a new surge in job losses.

Also expect to hear outrage this week over the week-long congressional recess - which will leave the House and Senate just four days from their Feb. 28 return to agree on a new budget deal to avoid a government shutdown Friday, March 4. That outrages ignores the fact that most senators and representatives will be busier than ever this week both gauging public opinion and looking for ways to avoid the threatened shutdown.

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., dismisses worries about a shutdown, saying he's confident a short-term extension of the current Continuing Resolution (CR) will be hammered out to keep the government in business. The one certainty is that away from the Washington spotlight, key Senate and House members will be working overtime this week to strike at least a temporary deal which allows the federal government to keep writing checks to cover everything from Social Security and farm program payments to veterans' benefits and international debt obligations.

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Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., is worried enough about the prospect of a shutdown that he's calling on President Obama to enter the fray by convening a White House “budget summit” this week to show leadership - and to corral Congress into a realistic compromise. Meanwhile, Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Mark Warner, D-Va., and Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will continue their own bipartisan work on a possible compromise.

The ongoing budget battle should guarantee a full house when this week's annual USDA Outlook Forum hears from former President Bill Clinton - a president who famously transformed federal budget deficits into surpluses. That sort of transformation is one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree is needed. They simply don't agree on the means. Republicans charge that President Obama's two years in office definitely prove that his stimulus-spending approach doesn't work and can't work. Directly answering that charge, Democrats respond that President George Bush's eight years in office definitely prove that slashing taxes and gutting regulations didn't work in the past and couldn't work in today's tougher times.

No wonder Senator Lugar concludes that “This is the time for presidential leadership.” Let's just hope with the March 4 deadline looming, someone steps forward to compel compromise. If not, Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other speakers at USDA's Outlook conference may have to hedge their bets when forecasting better times ahead for the U.S. farm economy.

On the good news side, the National FFA Organization will celebrate National FFA Week this week with an “Infinite Potential” theme. This annual event for the week of George Washington's birthday Feb. 22 has been a tradition since 1947.

Other key events and meetings this week:

Monday, Feb. 21 - Presidents' Day Holiday

Tuesday, Feb. 22

  • USDA reports: Catfish Processing, Catfish Feed Deliveries, Cold Storage, Cold Storage - Ann.

Wednesday, Feb. 23

  • Secretary Vilsack will hold a conference call with Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley on Hunger-Free Communities Grants.

  • U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will discuss Iowa's export prospects with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

  • USDA reports: Broiler Hatchery, On-Farm Renewable Energy Production.

Thursday, Feb. 24

  • Two-day annual USDA Outlook Forum on Today's Strategies & Tomorrow's Opportunities, Thurs. & Friday.

  • Global Business Dialogue forum on the outlook for the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement and the future of trade between the two with or without the FTA, with speakers including National Pork Producers Council VP Nick Giordano.

  • State and Federal Climate and Energy Policy forum co-sponsored by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Georgetown Climate Center, on the outlook for federal regulatory and legislative action, state and regional climate initiatives, and emerging clean energy economy opportunities, Thurs. & Friday.

  • USTR Office Chief Agricultural Negotiator Islam Siddiqui meets with American Sugar Alliance officials.

  • USDA reports: Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade.

Friday, Feb. 25

  • The final day of the annual USDA Outlook Forum.

  • USDA reports: Monthly Milk Cost of Production, Dairy Products Prices, Livestock Slaughter, Poultry Slaughter, Poultry Slaughter - Ann., Chickens and Eggs - Ann., Honey, Peanut Prices, Peanut Stocks and Processing, Trout Production.

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