By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 27 – Congress returns to an overloaded agenda. Closed-door on-again, off-again negotiations continue on a budget-cut compromise for the rest of FY '11 to avoid a government shutdown April 8. Meanwhile, as the selective list of congressional hearings below shows, the House and Senate are looking for answers on everything from the FY 2012 federal budget and climate change, to regulatory overreach, healthcare costs, job creation, and the stalled free trade agreements.

There may at least be a revealing answer on climate change this week when the Senate votes on competing amendments from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont. McConnell hopes to have the Senate join the House in repealing the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Baucus amendment would maintain EPA's regulatory authority but would add legislative certainty to what the EPA has already provided: exemptions for agriculture and small industrial operations. Another approach comes from coal-state Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.. His alternative amendment would force EPA to provide a two-year delay before implementing any of its court-ordered emissions regulations.

The week begins with President Obama's Monday evening address on the situation in Libya. Libya no doubt will continue to generate discussions throughout the week – as will the apparently deteriorating nuclear power situation in Japan. Both will be addressed in congressional hearings this week. And both crises are being played up by opposing sides in the on-going debate over U.S. energy policy. Some see the Mideast turmoil and the apparent Japanese meltdown as either urgent reasons to redouble efforts to accelerate renewable energy development – or urgent reasons to unleash domestic oil drilling and build the pipeline to bring nearby but dirty Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S.

Other key events and meetings this week:

Monday, March 28

  • Sec. Vilsack addresses trade issues including the South Korea Free Trade Agreement in St. Louis, Mo. meetings and attends the opening ceremony for the National Agricultural Statistics Service's new National Operations Center in Overland, Mo.

  • Bipartisan Policy Center briefing to launch the nutrition and physical activity initiative headed by former Agriculture Secretaries Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman.

Tuesday, March 29

  • EPA Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee (FRRCC) meeting on water quality and conservation issues.

  • Briefing by Elanco President Jeff Simmons on “making safe, affordable, abundant food a global reality,” at the National Press Club.

  • Senate Environment Committee hearing on disease clusters and environmental health.

  • Senate Energy Committee hearing on nuclear power plant situation in Japan.

  • House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on “Raising the Agencies' Grades – Protecting the Economy, Assuring Regulatory Quality and Improving Assessments of Regulatory Need.”

  • USDA reports: Peanut Stocks and Processing.

Wednesday, March 30

  • Senate Agriculture Committee hearing “to examine fundamentals and farming, focusing on evaluating high gas prices and how new rules and innovative farming can help.”

  • House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the administration's proposed FY 2012 budget, with USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse.

  • House Ways & Means Subcommittee hearing on the pending free trade agreement with Panama “to address the economic benefits this agreement will bring to American businesses, farmers, workers, consumers, and the U.S. economy.”

  • House Ways & Means Subcommittee hearing on “impediments to job creation and the impact of budget deficits and growing debt levels in particular.”

  • House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the healthcare reform law, “True Cost of PPACA: Effects on the Budget and Jobs,” with witnesses including Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Chief Actuary Rick Foster.

  • House Financial Services Subcommittee hearing on “Costs of Implementing the Dodd-Frank Act: Budgetary and Economic,” with witnesses including CFTC Commissioner Jill Sommers and CBO Director Doug Elmendorf.

  • House Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee hearing on “Has Dodd-Frank Ended Too Big To Fail?”

  • House Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee hearing on “Unfunded Mandates And Regulatory Overreach Part II.”

  • 2nd day of EPA's Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee (FRRCC) meeting on water quality and conservation issues.

  • USDA reports: Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, Agricultural Prices, Broiler Hatchery.

Thursday, March 31

  • The House Agriculture Committee hearing on “Defining the market: Entity and Product Classifications under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law.”

  • Senate Energy Committee hearing on legislation dealing with hydropower, marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy research and development, and the American Clean Energy Leadership Act.

  • House Administration Committee hearing on “The 2010 Election: A Look Back At What Went Right and Wrong.”

  • House Natural Resources Committee hearing on “Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices: Impacts on Businesses and Families.”

  • House Science, Space & Technology Committee hearing on “Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy.”

  • USDA reports: Grain Stocks, Prospective Plantings, Rice Stocks, Egg Products.

Friday, April 1

  • USDA reports: Dairy Products Prices, Peanut Prices, Vegetables

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