WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2017 - Senate Republicans this week will seek to squeeze through a budget resolution critical to passing tax cuts, and several of President Trump’s nominees critical to agriculture also could move out of committee.
The House is not in action this week, but the Senate returns from a week-long recess to a fight over the fiscal 2018 budget resolution that must pass in order for Republicans to use the budget reconciliation process to move tax legislation over what is certain to be broad Democratic opposition. The resolution would allow for $1.5 trillion in tax cuts.
The House version of the budget blueprint also would require $10 billion in cuts in agriculture spending, but the Senate measure has no such provision. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, has said he expects the final House-Senate agreement to omit any farm bill cuts.
Republicans continue to work behind closed doors on the tax package itself. Conaway says the biggest impact on agriculture would be from eliminating the estate tax. But along with ending the tax, GOP senators are discussing capping the use of stepped-up basis on inherited assets.
“We really must do this tax reform,” said Conaway. “The current code is a burden on our economy.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the detailed tax package would be released soon after the House and Senate pass the final version of the budget.
Several of President Trump’s nominees to key positions at USDA and EPA also could be advanced this week. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey to be USDA’s undersecretary of farm and conservation programs and Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach to become undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. Both nominees sailed through their confirmation hearing Oct. 5 and should get quick approval in the full Senate after the committee acts.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote Wednesday on three nominees to serve as assistant administrators who run EPA divisions that are important to agriculture: Michael Dourson for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, William Wehrum for the Office of Air and Radiation, and David Ross to run the Office of Water.
Dourson, a professor in the Risk Science Center at the University of Cincinnati, is backed by CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers, but his nomination has come under sharp criticism from Democrats because of his work for industry.
Wehrum, who will be in charge of implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard, has provided few clues as to how he will approach setting the annual biofuel usage targets.
On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue wraps up a trip to Europe that has taken him to London for trade discussions, then to a meeting with G7 agriculture ministers this weekend in Bergamo, Italy.
On Sunday, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert tweeted a picture of himself with Perdue and said, “Make our European agriculture great again.” Perdue responded that Travert “speaks my language. Of course @USDA is working on Making American Agriculture Great Again!”
On Monday, Perdue will join his counterparts in Rome to celebrate World Food Day with Pope Francis. He will stop in Madrid on Tuesday for a meeting with his Spanish counterpart.
While in London, Perdue talked to his British counterpart and members of Parliament about easing restrictions on U.S. farm exports in a post-Brexit trade agreement. “I tell our American producers that if they grow it, @USDA will help sell it,” Perdue said in a tweet from London. “That's what we're trying to accomplish here.”
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Oct. 16
World Food Day. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and other G7 agriculture ministers will join Pope Francis at the official ceremony in Rome.
Iowa Hunger Summit in Des Moines. Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a conversation about food insecurity within the U.S., with other former secretaries Dan Glickman, Ann Veneman, Mike Johanns and Ed Schafer.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Oct. 17
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Tri-National Accord, through Thursday, Denver.
Perdue meets with Spanish counterpart in Madrid.
11 a.m. - Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaks on Trump Administration immigration enforcement policy at the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave NW.
1 p.m. - EPA and Army Corps of Engineers hold listening session via webinar for agricultural stakeholders on the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.
Wednesday, Oct. 18
World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, through Friday, Des Moines, Iowa.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee votes on nominations to the EPA, 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, Oct. 19
Deadline for comments to EPA on the proposed 2018 biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel volumes, and/or the 2019 biomass-based diesel volume under the Renewable Fuel Standard program.
8:30 a.m. - Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks on international food aid at forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10:30 a.m. - Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Food for Peace program, 419 Dirksen.
Friday, Oct. 20
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