Republican leaders are rushing to pass another short-term spending bill to keep the government funded into March, and the prospects for moving a new farm bill by early spring could hinge on whether some cotton and dairy provisions get thrown into the spending measure.
The continuing resolution that is currently funding the government expires at midnight Thursday. GOP leaders have been expressing confidence that they will pass a new extension into March to give time for the House and Senate appropriators to finish work on an omnibus spending package for fiscal 2018.
The question is what could get attached to the CR this week to attract votes. That is where the farm bill could be affected.
Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees have been hoping congressional leaders would agree to throw into the CR a disaster-aid package that includes authorization of new farm bill assistance for cotton and dairy producers. Those provisions would in turn relieve some budget pressures on the Agriculture committees, freeing them to address other funding challenges as they mark up their versions of the new farm bill.
If the cotton, dairy provisions are settled in this week’s CR, the Senate committee could move a new farm bill in March or April, said a committee source. “If the funding question slips a little bit then things could slip a little bit as well,” the source said, referring to the timing of the farm bill.
Another source said that neither the cotton and dairy provisions were finalized as of last week, but that they could be ready for the CR if a disaster bill were attached. The disaster package could increase Democratic support: Senate Democrats are pushing to add assistance for Puerto Rico to a disaster bill that passed the House in December. One potential scenario this week: The House passes a simple CR and sends it to the Senate, which could attach the disaster and farm provisions, before sending the combined measure back to the House for final approval.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed confidence Thursday at the GOP congressional retreat that there wouldn’t be a repeat this week of last month’s government shutdown. “There will be a new level of seriousness here in trying to revolve these issues as we go forward,” he said.
But neither he nor House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., indicated whether the disaster provisions would be included.
Ryan said that Republicans and Democrats were making progress toward an agreement to increase spending limits for defense and non-defense limits. However, even if a deal were reached this week, a new CR into March would be needed to give appropriators time to finish writing an omnibus spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2018, Ryan said.
Regardless of what happens with the CR, the farm bill is likely to be a major topic of discussion on Capitol Hill Tuesday when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testifies before the House Agriculture Committee. Perdue’s appearance will come just ahead of the expected Feb. 12 release of President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget.
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Steve Censky said last week that while Perdue has been pressing the Office of Management and Budget on a number of priority issues, the budget is likely to include some spending cuts similar to what were proposed for FY18. President Trump proposed, among other things, to slash $29 billion from the crop insurance program.
The FY18 budget proposal provide “some indications of what farmers and ranchers can expect” in the new budget, Censky told reporters last week on the sidelines of the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau annual meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Also on Tuesday, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the way it reviews the carcinogenicity of chemicals such as the herbicide glyphosate.
IARC has been criticized for only using published studies in its reviews. In deciding that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans, the agency didn’t take into account data from the U.S. government’s large-scale Agricultural Health Study that could have changed the finding.
The House, meanwhile, will debate a bill this week to ease the menu labeling requirements that the Food and Drug Administration was mandated to implement under the Affordable Care Act. The regulations are set to take effect May 7.
The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, sponsored by House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., would, among other things, allow pizza chains to provide calorie information primarily through the internet rather than on store menu boards. The legislation also would delay the menu labeling requirements. Similar legislation passed the House in 2016 but never went anywhere in the Senate.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Feb. 5
Crop Insurance Industry Annual Convention, through Wednesday, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Tuesday, Feb. 6
Wheat Industry Winter Conference, through Saturday, Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H Street NW.
9:30 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Monograph Program and review of glyphosate, 2318 Rayburn.
Wednesday, Feb. 7
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives annual meeting, through Friday, New Orleans.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the agricultural impact of the "waters of the United States" rule, 406 Dirksen.
11 a..m. - USDA releases Highlights from the February 2018 Farm Income Forecast.
Thursday, Feb. 8
Continuing resolution funding the government expires at midnight.
Friday, Feb. 9
National Cotton Council annual meeting, through Sunday, Fort Worth, Texas.
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