President Trump puts a focus on agriculture and rural America as he heads to Nashville to address the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention on Monday in his first major speech since signing the sweeping tax bill before Christmas.
Trump is widely expected to talk about his coming infrastructure initiative in the speech, and Farm Bureau members are also hoping he’ll urge Congress to pass a new farm bill this year to replace the expiring 2014 law. It will be the first time he has devoted as much time to agriculture since a trip to Iowa in June when he promised to rebuild rural America.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also will address the Farm Bureau convention Monday afternoon. Some 7,000 people are expected to be in attendance.
Trump and Perdue will be talking to an audience nervous about his trade agenda and the pending renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but largely appreciative of his regulatory agenda and court appointments.
Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said he would like to hear some assurances on Trump’s trade policy as well as a “a commitment to continued progress on regulation.”
The Trump administration is moving forward with one of the Farm Bureau’s top regulatory priorities, replacing the Obama-era “Waters of the U.S.” rule re-defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, but has yet to release a new version.
The president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, Craig Hill, also wants to hear some assurances from Trump on trade. “Access to growing world demand and setting a high standard for trade is essential for American agriculture to prosper, and hopefully the president will speak to this commitment,” he said.
Ahead of the trip to Nashville, Trump met Thursday with five GOP senators at the White House, including Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who pressed him on the importance to agriculture of trade and a new farm bill.
Trump “understands the difficulty farm country is going through,” Roberts said.
Citing recent meetings he has held around Indiana, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly said he believes that lawmakers and the Trump administration will preserve programs that underpin farm income.
“The agricultural issues I heard most about included the need to manage and mitigate the risks associated with farming, protecting crop insurance, expanding market and trade opportunities, supporting biofuels, and improving soil health,” Donnelly said.
Farmers also are worried about the opioid epidemic - an issue that also will be addressed at the Farm Bureau convention - and want help with expansion of rural broadband, Donnelly said.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall and Roger Johnson, the president of the second largest general farm organization, the National Farmers Union, will address the convention on Monday about an unusual joint project attacking the opioid epidemic, called “Farm Town Strong.” They will be joined by Anne Hazlett, USDA's assistant to the secretary for rural development.
Back in Washington, Republican and Democratic leaders said they were optimistic they would reach a budget agreement by the time the latest stopgap spending bill expires Jan. 19.
The leaders need to cut a deal on limits for defense and non-defense spending and also decide what to do with a disaster-aid package that includes new farm bill funding for cotton and dairy producers as well as assistance for growers who lost crops to last year’s hurricanes.
Democrats also have been pushing for legislation to allow Dreamers - immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to remain in the U.S. - while Republicans want to include an extension of expired tax breaks, including several for biofuels.
“I am optimistic we will get a resolution before Jan. 19,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of the budget talks.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said a meeting between the leaders and senior White House officials on Wednesday was “positive and productive.”
“There are things they want. There are things we want. We can come to a good agreement if everyone is reasonable,” Schumer said. “We intend to be reasonable, but we do not intend to abandon our priorities.”
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 8
American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention, through Tuesday. President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speak Monday afternoon.
Tuesday, Jan. 9
AFBF annual convention.
10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Alex Azar to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, 215 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Jan. 10
9:30 a.m. - The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue's, annual speech on the state of American business, 1615 H Street NW.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges,” 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, Jan. 11
Time TBD - Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee meeting to vote on the nominations to various Labor Department positions, including the assistant secretary for occupational safety and health and the administrator of the wage and hour division.
Friday, Jan.. 12
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