By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 18 – Congress has skipped town until May 2, providing a full two weeks for members to test reaction back home to what Congress finally accomplished (or didn't) last week. Some members are likely to hear that cutting $38.5 billion for the final six months of the current fiscal year wasn't nearly enough . . . particularly when Congressional Budget Office estimates show the actual cut is more like $352 million, since so much of the money wasn't really being spent anyway.

Senate and House members may also learn that at least some constituents don't like what they're heard about cuts which could be locally painful such as with federal jobs lost or contracting work cancelled. The only certainty is that the politicians who headed home armed with their parties' contrasting “talking points” about the cuts and the ballooning federal debt should return better educated. This better education will be needed when Congress returns to deal with raising the federal debt ceiling and hammering out a federal budget for fiscal 2012.

It's not only Congress taking a break from Washington's craziness. On Monday, USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan will continue her college tour presentation at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Student Conference in Bismarck, N.D. On Tuesday, Agriculture Sec. Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will visit a livestock operation in Pleasantville and a corn and soybean farm in Prairie City, Iowa, followed by touring the Renewable Energy Group's biodiesel plant in nearby Newton, Iowa. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary Merrigan will keynote the “Making Good Food Work” conference in Detroit, Mich.

On Wednesday, Merrigan will host a biofuels roundtable with local stakeholders in Lansing, Mich., then tour a biofuels research facility and AFEX technology pilot plant in Lansing. On her way back to Washington, on Thursday, Merrigan will deliver her college tour presentation at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

Other key events and meetings this week:

Monday, April 18

  • As the first step in the White House plan to forge a bipartisan plan with Congress to address spending and debt issues, Vice President Biden meets with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jacob Lew, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, and senior advisors.

  • Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., hosts a forum in Virginia on the brown stink bug infestation impacting farmers and nursery owners in 33 states, calling for “a coordinated effort at all levels of government to respond to this growing problem.”

  • USDA reports: Crop Progress.

Tuesday, April 19

  • USDA reports: Wheat Data, Feed Grains Database, Milk Production.

Wednesday, April 20

  • USDA reports: Broiler Hatchery, Catfish Processing, Catfish Feed Deliveries.

Thursday, April 21

  • President Obama will hold a Shared Responsibility and Shared Prosperity town hall meeting in Reno, Nev. to present his views on dealing with federal spending and deficit issues. 

    USDA reports: Livestock Slaughter, Dairy Products Prices, Cattle on Feed, Chickens and Eggs, Cold Storage, Floriculture Crops, Peanut Prices.

Friday, April 22

  • Earth Day 2011: A Billion Acts of Green®. This year, Earth Day's theme is “A Billion Acts of Green, a people-powered campaign to generate a billion acts of environmental service and advocacy before Rio +20.”

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