WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2017 - Congressional Republicans will set the stage this week to begin work on a $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill, while the Senate is poised to approve two more undersecretaries for the Agriculture Department. 

The House is expected to approve a Senate-passed fiscal 2018 budget resolution this week that will allow use of the budget reconciliation process to move a tax bill through the Senate without Democratic support. The Senate-passed budget, unlike a version the House approved earlier this month, was good news for the next farm bill in that it would require no cuts in agriculture spending

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, praised House and Senate GOP leaders "for producing a final budget that preserves our ability to craft an effective, efficient farm bill while also allowing us to move forward with efforts to simplify the tax code.” 

Early this week, the Senate is expected to approve the nominations of Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach as USDA undersecretaries. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved both nominations on Thursday but added some confusion to Northey’s new job by challenging Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's ability to install him in a reorganized position without approval from Congress. 

Northey is being confirmed as undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, a position that is being reworked. Perdue intends for him to serve as undersecretary for farm production and conservation, which would put Northey over the Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency. The Foreign Agricultural Service, meanwhile, is being moved under the new undersecretary for trade, Ted McKinney. 

The committee said in a letter to Perdue that Congress needs to pass legislation to allow the shift in Northey's duties. 

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has said that the committee also could hold a hearing as soon as this week on President Trump’s only controversial USDA nominee so far, Sam Clovis, to be undersecretary for research, economics and education. Democrats say Clovis lacks the scientific qualifications to hold the position, and he also has come under fire for comments he made on a talk radio show he once hosted in Iowa. 

Several other nominees important to agriculture could advance from committee this week: The Senate Finance Committee will vote Tuesday on the nomination of Gregg Doud to be chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote Wednesday on three nominees to serve as assistant administrators who run key EPA divisions: 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. 

Wehrum’s nomination had been held up by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, over concerns about EPA’s biofuel policy. But EPA Administrator Scott Letter sent a letter Friday to Ernst and six other Senate Republicans pledging to maintain biofuel usage targets and not to shift compliance from refiners to blenders

Also this week, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is planning to move a bill to replace the H-2A farmworker visa program after overhauling the legislation to address concerns of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and other immigration hard-liners. 

Goodlatte’s new version rolls back some planned protections for existing workers who are illegal immigrants. 

Under the original version, the new H-2C visa program was scheduled to take effect in two years and provide work authorization to illegal workers in the interim. The new version strips the work authorization language and implements the new program in six months. The new version also drops a provision allowing existing workers to qualify for up to 10,000 green cards annually. 

Other provisions in the new version shrink the H-2C program from 500,000 to 450,000 visas and would require employers to provide health insurance to visa holders.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the guestworker bill Tuesday in tandem with separate legislation that would require all employers to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of hires. 

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

Monday, Oct. 23

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

Tuesday, Oct. 24

USDA, FDA and CDC hold a public meeting on the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, through Wednesday, USDA Jefferson Auditorium.

10 a.m. - House Judiciary Committee markup of the Agricultural Guestworker Act and the Legal Workforce Act, 2141 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee meeting to vote on three nominations, including that of Gregg Doud to be chief agricultural negotiator, and hearing to consider the nomination of Kevin McAleenan to be commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, 215 Dirksen.

Wednesday, Oct. 25

National FFA convention, through Saturday, Indianapolis. 

9 a.m. - USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing on state sage grouse management, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. - 10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee votes on nominations to the EPA and holds hearing on the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act, 406 Dirksen.

Thursday, Oct. 26

National Land Conservation Conference, through Saturday, Denver. 

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

Friday, Oct. 27

11 a.m. - Heritage Foundation forum, “The Role of Investor-State Dispute Settlement Provisions in NAFTA,” 214 Massachusetts Ave NE.



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