President Trump takes another stab this week at settling a biofuel policy dispute that has embroiled a key USDA nominee, and his administration will step up its defense of proposals to clamp down on federal nutrition assistance. 

Trump will meet at the White House Tuesday with four Republicans senators at the heart of the feud over the Renewable Fuel Standard, Ted Cruz of Texas and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who are demanding action to cut prices of biofuel credits, and Iowa Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also will attend, and the president will have lunch with just the two of them on Monday in what could be a preview of things to come.

Sources close to the issue say they don’t know what Trump will do. There has been no sign of progress in the dispute since Trump met Dec. 7 with Cruz and other oil-state senators and urged them to reach an agreement with the ethanol industry.

Cruz has been demanding a cap on prices for Renewable Identification Numbers, the credits used to enforce compliance with the RFS. As leverage Cruz has been blocking since October a Senate vote on the nomination of Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey to be USDA’s undersecretary for farm and conservation programs. 

Cruz held a rally last week in Philadelphia with workers at a refinery that claims RIN prices forced the company to file for bankruptcy protection in January. 

Refiners are counting on Trump to be worried about losing support in a state he carried in 2016. Trump “recognizes that Pennsylvania is a hugely important state for him,” said a source close to the industry. The state Supreme Court’s recent redrawing of Pennsylvania congressional districts will make it even more difficult for Republicans to hold House seats. Trump noted the redistricting issue in a tweet on Saturday. 

Perdue, meanwhile, is stepping up his efforts to use the next farm bill to overhaul the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Last week, the administration announced that it would seek public input on ways to tighten work requirements for able-bodied dependents without children, and Perdue is vigorously defending a plan, included in Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget, to convert half of SNAP cash benefits into food boxes that would be delivered to recipients. 

USDA’s acting undersecretary for food and nutrition programs, Brandon Lipps, will defend the administration’s policy in an appearance Monday at the annual National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference sponsored by the Food Research and Action Center and Feeding America, a network of food banks. 

In an op-ed for USA Today last week, Lipps said the food boxes would “provide nutritious food for people in need and reduce costs to taxpayers at a time when the national debt exceeds $20.5 trillion.”

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is considering authorizing a pilot project in the next farm bill to test the proposal, but it’s not clear that Perdue can overcome the broad criticism directed at the proposal after it was sprung on Congress and the food industry with no warning and limited explanation from USDA or Perdue. 

On Tuesday, the activists attending the conference will be on Capitol Hill lobbying against cuts to SNAP and other nutrition programs. 

Trump’s budget, which also proposes to slash crop insurance and other farm bill programs, also could come up when Perdue appears Wednesday in Anaheim, Calif., at Commodity Classic, the annual gathering of the nation’s corn, soybean, wheat, and sorghum growers as well as equipment manufacturers.

It will be Perdue’s first trip to the event as secretary; he had not yet been confirmed to his post when the event took place in San Antonio a year ago.

The commodity groups in attendance – The National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Sorghum Producers, and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers – will also look to iron out their final policy stances ahead of markup action for the upcoming farm bill. 

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Feb. 26

National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, through Tuesday, Omni Shoreham.

NAFTA renegotiations, Mexico City, through March 6.

Noon - National Invasive Species Awareness Week seminar, “Infrastructure and Invasive Species,” with Michael Vissichelli of the Army Corps of Engineers, 421 Cannon.

Tuesday, Feb. 27

Commodity Classic, through Thursday, Anaheim, Calif.

All day - National Invasive Species Council's Stakeholders Forum, National Museum of the American Indian.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee meeting to consider its budget views and estimates letter, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the nation’s energy infrastructure, 2123 Rayburn.

Noon - National Invasive Species Awareness Week seminar, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” 421 Cannon.

Wednesday, Feb. 28

All day - Food Tank Summit: Cultivating the Next Generation of Young Food Leaders, Jack Morton Auditorium, George Washington University.

Noon - National Invasive Species Awareness Week seminar, “Gene Drives 101: Perspectives on Potential Invasive Species Management,” 421 Cannon.

Thursday, March 1

Noon - National Invasive Species Awareness Week seminar, “Early Detection and Rapid Response,” National Museum of the American Indian.

Friday, March 2

9 a.m. - Washington International Trade Association forum, "The Great Wall: Trade Enforcement in the Age of Trump." Ronald Reagan Building.

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