By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 20 – With President Obama beginning the week in Latin America, Congress out of town, and the dramas still unfolding in Japan and Libya, this week's action will be largely out of sight as backroom negotiations continue over federal spending and the federal debt limit.

President Obama said the goal of his Latin America trip which began Saturday in Brazil, continues in Chile Monday and concludes in El Salvador Tuesday is “to strengthen economic partnerships abroad so that we create good jobs at home.” As this week's trip unfolds, expect to hear Democrats as well as Republicans question why if he's so concerned about Latin American partnerships, Obama's not submitting the stalled Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements along with the South Korean FTA – and why Obama didn't include stops in Colombia and Panama for this trip.

Meanwhile Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will be touting success with other economic partnerships. On Monday, he'll address the Federal Economic Development Conference to explain the gains made in the administration's efforts to accelerate economic growth in rural communities through rural broadband, energy, and small business development to make the rural economy more competitive.

Vilsack will continue the same theme Tuesday when he speaks at the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association Legislative and Policy Conference.

Except for the ongoing dramas in Japan and Libya, both Vilsack and Obama can expect more attention to what they have to say because the House and Senate will be out of town for the week. Although out of sight, congressional action will remain intense as Republicans and Democrats craft strategies to promote their contrasting budget visions both for the remaining six months of this fiscal year and for FY 2012. This ongoing budget battle will intensify once Congress returns to town March 28. Then Congress will have just two weeks left before the current short-term budget agreement expires April 8 to come up with another budget deal to avoid a federal government shutdown. Both sides hope this time, the agreement will run through Sept. 30 rather that just be another short-term postponement.

Along with crafting a budget deal for this year, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., aims at unveiling a GOP proposal for fiscal 2012 in early April to include tackling controversial entitlement reforms – such as paring back Social Security payments and turning Medicare benefits into cash payments which recipients would use to purchase private insurance.

On the trade front, the U.S. Trade Representative's office will be busy this week, with Ambassador Kirk in Brazil and Chile with President Obama, Ambassador Siddiqui in Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the Doha Development Agenda round of negotiations, and Ambassador Punke co-leading, with Brazil, a meeting with 11 key World Trade Organization (WTO) members on more Doha negotiations there.

Other key events and meetings this week:

Monday, March 21

  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gives the keynote address at the Federal Economic Development Conference, on the administration’s Rural Renaissance initiatives.

  • USDA reports: Catfish Processing, Catfish Feed Deliveries, Wheat Data, Feed Grains Database.

Tuesday, March 22

  • USDA reports: Chickens and Eggs, Cold Storage, Hop Stocks.

Wednesday, March 23

  • One-year anniversary of the administration's health-care reform legislation being signed into law.

  • Fed Chair Ben Bernanke addresses Independent Community Bankers of America National Convention on Community Banking in a Period of Recovery and Change.

  • USDA reports: Broiler Hatchery.

Thursday, March 24

  • Heads of European Union member states gather in Brussels for a two-day summit to finalize a deal on Europe's sovereign-debt crisis

Friday, March 25

  • USDA reports: Cotton Ginnings, Dairy Products Prices, Livestock Slaughter, Poultry Slaughter, Peanut Prices, Price Reactions After USDA Livestock Reports, Quarterly Hogs and Pigs, Monthly Milk Cost of Production.

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