By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 7 – Much of the President's Cabinet will be on Capitol Hill this week for more budget hearings, tasked with defending President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget. Simultaneously, closed-door negotiations will continue all week to reconcile House Republicans' demand to cut federal spending through Sept. 30 by another $57 billion with Democrats' insistence that their offer of a $10.5 billion cut is the most that can be done without throwing the fragile recovery back into recession.

Along with the House and Senate hearings, the Senate will hold test votes this week on both the House GOP approach and the Democrats' less draconian alternative budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year. The likelihood is that neither approach will pass muster – giving both GOP and Democratic leaders ammunition for the argument that their right and left extremes respectively must accept a compromise somewhere between the $57 billion and the $10.5 billion. The one certainty: whether the end result is $57 billion, $10.5 billion, a March 18 federal government shutdown, or a further short-term extension, federal spending will be cut in ways which will impact both the U.S. economy and household budgets.

Another interesting set of hearings this week involves the EPA. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson gets another chance to refute GOP charges of regulatory overreach when she gets grilled again on Friday, this time facing House Energy & Commerce members after her House Appropriations appearance last week. In a step toward bipartisanship, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee's Energy & Power Subcommittee, agreed to Democrats' request – despite protests from some GOP members – to hold a hearing Tuesday to question respected scientists on climate change impacts. Meanwhile, a House Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday will focus on “the impact of EPA regulation on agriculture.”

Adding urgency to this week's wide-ranging congressional hearings on the federal budget, tax reform and financial reform, all this is taking place against the worrisome backdrop of the brewing civil war in Libya. Mideast turmoil is blamed for oil prices spiking to over $106 a barrel, raising fears of gasoline topping $4, inflation, and contentious discussions of whether to draw down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – and/or accelerate domestic oil and gas drilling.

With so much contention, it may be a very good sign that a series of State Department and White House events this week will celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and launch the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges.” With so many signs that the men in charge today are struggling, empowering women could be the best way to turn things around.

Other key events and meetings this week:

Monday, March 7

  • Agriculture Secretary Vilsack addresses the National Rural Electric Cooperative Meeting, Orlando, Fla.

  • Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis meets with Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Chao on bilateral trade and investment issues.

  • U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator Islam Siddiqui meets with agricultural leaders to discuss the Doha Development Agenda and other key market access issues.

Tuesday, March 8

  • Senate Budget Committee hearing with co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

  • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the administration's proposed 2012 budget, with Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew.

  • House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee hearing on Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing on climate science and EPA rules.

  • House Appropriations Committee hearing on fiscal 2012 withInterior Secretary Ken Salazar.

  • House Natural Resources Committee fiscal 2012 budget hearing with Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey.

  • Senate FinanceCommittee hearing on whether the tax system supports economic efficiency, job creation and broad-based economic growth.

  • Senate AppropriationsCommittee hearing on proposed budget estimates for fiscal year 2012.

Wednesday, March 9

  • House Agriculture Committee business meeting To consider H.R. 872, The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011.

  • Secretary Vilsack addresses the School Nutrition Association in recognition of National School Breakfast Week.

  • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on fiscal 2012 budget with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

  • The House Appropriations Committee hearing on the budget for the National Park Service with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

  • Senate Finance Committee hearing on the administration's trade agenda, with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the cumulative impact of regulation on the government.

  • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on legislation to make light bulbs more energy efficient.

  • Senate Budget Committee hearing on distribution and efficiency of spending in the tax code.

  • USDA reports: Broiler Hatchery

Thursday, March 10

  • House Agriculture Committee hearing to review the impact of EPA regulation on agriculture.

  • Senate Appropriations Committee fiscal 2012 budget hearing with Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, Deputy Sec. Kathleen Merrigan & Chief Economist Joe Glauber.

  • House Natural Resources Committee fiscal 2012 budget hearing with Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey.

  • House Science Committee hearing on the fiscal 2012 research and development budget with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco.

  • USDA reports: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, Season-Average Price Forecasts, Latest U.S. Agricultural Trade Data

Friday, March 11

  • House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee 2012 budget hearing with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

  • USDA reports: Livestock and Meat Trade Data, Oil Crops Outlook, Rice Outlook, U.S. Agricultural Trade Data Update, Cotton and Wool Outlook, Crop Production, Dairy Products Prices, Peanut Prices, Price Reactions after USDA Crop Reports

To add your event to our calendar, please e-mail us at:

For other Agri-Pulse news stories, go to: