Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is likely to get an earful about farmers’ trade concerns when he heads to Capitol Hill this week, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a grilling by two House panels.
Perdue appears before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday. Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Trump administration’s trade policy and has expressed opposition to Perdue’s plan to use newly restored spending authority to compensate farmers who've been harmed by retaliatory tariffs.
Thanks to the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill enacted in March, Perdue has $15 billion of borrowing authority on USDA’s Section 5 that he can use to compensate farmers. The omnibus lifted a restriction on Section 5, and a related program, Section 32, that Republican appropriators imposed after then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made payments to farmers ahead of the 2010 congressional elections.
Roberts has called Perdue’s potential trade assistance a “crazy quilt subsidy program” that would set a bad precedent. Perdue argues that the authority to make the payments gives President Trump negotiating leverage in the ongoing trade dispute with China.
The Senate committee hearing is expected to be wide-ranging and include issues beyond trade.
Pruitt's trek to Capitol Hill on Thursday is certain to be less friendly, given the criticism his spending habits have attracted as well as his handling of a range of issues from climate change to biofuel policy. He’ll testify before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee in the morning and the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee in the afternoon. Nearly every Democratic member of both subcommittees signed a letter last week calling on Pruitt to resign.
Pruitt also is meeting on Tuesday with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, who are holding their annual Washington Watch this week, and those journalists are certain to question him about his implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Pruitt has been under bipartisan fire for giving numerous refiners waivers from the RFS requirements. The ranking members of the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and the full Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone of New Jersey, sent a letter to President Trump on Friday saying that Pruitt was using the waivers to undermine the RFS.
“We recognize the difficulty of reconciling the different stakeholder interests in this program. Nevertheless, Administrator Pruitt cannot and should not misuse the authority of his office in an attempt to subvert it to suit favored interests.” the letter says.
The NAFB members also are scheduled to meet with officials from Mexico, Canada and Japan on trade issues as well as a number of top lawmakers, including the chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Sen. Roberts.
Conaway is lobbying GOP colleagues to support the farm bill that his committee approved on a party-line 26-20 vote last week. Conaway hopes to have the bill on the House floor in May.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Washington this week to meet Trump in the administration’s first state visit and to address a joint session of Congress.
A White House official said the two leaders’ discussion will include Trump’s announcement of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, April 23
National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual Washington Watch, through Wednesday.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, April 24
10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, 328-A Russell.
10 a.m. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Forest Service, 366 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee hearing with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, 124 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on the new tax law, 215 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. - Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the U.S. Agency for International Development, 192 Dirksen.
Wednesday, April 25
French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a joint session of Congress.
9 a.m. - USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.
11 a.m. - House Small Business Committee hearing, “American Infrastructure and the Small Business Perspective,” 2360 Rayburn.
1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing for House members, 2362-A Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Customs and Border Protection, 210 HVC.
2 p..m. - House Natural Resources Committee hearing,"The Weaponization of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Implications of Environmental Lawfare,” 1324 Longworth.
Thursday, April 26
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, 10 a.m.
10:15 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, 2322 Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Pruitt, 2007 Rayburn.
2 p.m. - House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USAID, 2362-A Rayburn.
Friday, April 27
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