Lawmakers face a Friday deadline to pass a new stopgap funding bill as they struggle to reach agreement on immigration and tax issues as well as a disaster bill that would include new assistance for farmers.
The continuing resolution that is currently funding the government is scheduled to expire Jan. 19. Congress is expected to take up another CR later in the week to give lawmakers additional time to reach deals and write a sweeping spending bill that they hope to pass in coming weeks. It would be the third such temporary funding bill since fiscal 2018 began Oct. 1.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said late last week that Democratic and GOP leaders were making “good progress” toward an agreement to raise the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. “We have to have a cap agreement in order to fund the military in order to give the appropriators the money they need to write” an omnibus spending bill, Ryan said.
However, Democrats and Republicans were still far apart heading into the weekend on immigration issues, including on what to do about the Dreamers, people who came to the country illegally as children.
Negotiators claimed to have an immigration deal Thursday, but President Trump didn't endorse it, and the issue quickly became swamped by news that Trump had used a vulgar term in a meeting with lawmakers to refer to Haiti and other poor countries.
The House and Senate also are trying to work out differences over assistance to cotton and dairy producers. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said last week that he was “trying desperately to hold” the cotton provisions in a House-passed disaster bill that would make seed cotton, the combination of fiber and seed, eligible for the Price Loss Coverage program. To assist dairy producers, the House bill also would lift a spending cap on Livestock Gross Margin insurance.
But the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said the dairy provision didn’t go far enough, and she also objects to using savings from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to pay for farm programs, as the House bill would do. “We’re not going to use SNAP as a pay-for,” she said.
One source familiar with the negotiations said it’s possible that a disaster bill containing the cotton and dairy provisions could be attached to the continuing resolution that Congress will consider this week. Florida’s senators and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said in a letter to Senate leaders Friday that it was “past time” for the Senate to act on the disaster bill. The House bill includes $2.6 billion assistance to citrus growers and other producers who lost crops to last year’s hurricanes.
Meanwhile, grain companies and farmer cooperatives are trying to reach a compromise on reforms to a tax provision that was included in the new tax law for co-ops. Experts say the provision could make it much more lucrative for farmers to sell crops to co-ops than to other buyers.
Also this week, former Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., will be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon in the Capitol rotunda. The award, which recognizes Dole’s “service to the nation as a soldier, legislator and statesman,” is the highest honor Congress can award to a civilian.
Dole partnered with Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., in expanding federal nutrition programs in the 1970s and later in creating the international school feeding program that is named after them.
On Friday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on the safety of the food supply and food recall procedures at FDA, which came under criticism in a report issued last month by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The hearing comes amid an ongoing investigation of a multistate E. coli outbreak that may have originated in romaine lettuce.
The inspector general’s report, which reviewed cases from 2012 to 2015, found deficiencies in FDA's oversight of recall initiation and its monitoring of recalls, as well as the recall information maintained in the agency’s database. The investigators said FDA sometimes failed to ensure that firms issue recalls promptly or evaluate health hazards in a timely manner.
The weaknesses predate the Trump administration, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said his agency has already made improvements, and he promised more. “A lot has changed since that timeframe when it comes to our food safety practices. But I know that much work remains to be done if we’re going to provide the highest assurance of safety,” he said.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 15
Federal holiday for Martin Luther King Day.
Tuesday, Jan. 16
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the domestic and global energy outlook, 366 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security with Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, 216 Hart.
Noon - Heritage Foundation forum, “Energy Dominance Needs NAFTA,” 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
Wednesday, Jan. 17
9:30 a.m. - Bipartisan Policy Center forum, “Reinventing Rural Health Care: A Case Study of Seven Upper Midwest States,” 1225 Eye St. NW.
10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on the state of the U.S. maritime industry, 2167 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges,” 406 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nominations of Dennis Shea to be the deputy U.S. trade representative in Geneva and C. J. Mahoney to be deputy USTR for investment, services, labor, environment, Africa, China and the Western Hemisphere.
3 p.m. - Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for former Sen. Robert Dole, Capitol rotunda.
Thursday, Jan. 18
9 a.m. - U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum, “America’s Infrastructure Summit: Time to Modernize,” 1615 H St. NW.
10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, “America’s Water Resources Infrastructure: Approaches to Enhanced Project Delivery,” 2167 Rayburn.
10:30 a.m. - U.S. Energy Association forum, “State of the Energy Industry,” National Press Club.
Friday, Jan.. 19
9 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on FDA’s food recall process, 2123 Rayburn.
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com