Lawmakers return from their extended summer recess facing pressure from farm groups to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and staring at an Oct. 1 deadline to pass a stopgap spending bill and avoid another government shutdown.
USMCA backers are pressing White House and House Democrats to reach a deal that will clear the way for President Donald Trump to submit the implementing legislation to Congress for consideration.
The top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said there is “growing bipartisan support” for the deal. “Every day USMCA is stalled in Congress, American workers, families and our economy are missing out,” he said in a speech at Rice University.
But last week a member of a small House Democratic working group, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, indicated that the vote could slip into 2020, and she and other Democrats said they would insist on renegotiating the text of the agreement itself.
“Democrats are committed to a renegotiated deal with strong enforcement mechanisms that helps working families, protects the environment, and preserves access to affordable medicines now and in the future,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.
Democrats are demanding among other things provisions to ensure that labor standards can be enforced in Mexico.
“I don’t know a single Democrat who wants to see the USMCA go down,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., told Agri-Pulse. However he said, “An unenforceable trade deal is a windfall for corporations and a disaster for workers.”
With the congressional recess ending, the National Corn Growers Association issued a statement saying that USMCA “should be at the top of” lawmakers’ fall agenda.
“Farmers have taken the opportunity to share this message with lawmakers at local events during the August break and are eager to see the working group process bear fruit so the agreement can move forward for consideration.”
Members of the National Pork Producers Council will be delivering a similar message to lawmakers and aides this week during their fall legislative fly-in.
The White House won’t submit the implementing legislation to Congress until Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signals the House is ready to consider it. Once the bill is submitted, the Ways and Means will have 45 session days to report the bill to the House or else the measure is automatically moved to the floor. The House then has 15 session days to vote on the bill.
The Oct. 1 deadline for keeping the government funding is the more immediate concern facing legislative leaders. The House will take up a continuing resolution the week of Sept. 16 to keep the government funded into the new fiscal year while lawmakers finish work on their 12 annual spending bills. Work on the bills in the Senate had been stalled until Democrats reached agreement with the White House this summer on overall funding limits for the government for fiscal 2020 and 2021.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will start moving its FY20 bills this week, with votes planned Wednesday on four bills, which fund agencies such as the Labor Department, Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
As the committee considers additional legislation, the pork producers will be urging the lawmakers to include funding for 600 new U.S. agricultural inspectors to prevent the spread of foreign animal diseases to the U.S., including African swine fever, which has devastated China’s pork production.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has been defending Trump’s trade tactics around the country in the face of a weak farm economy, is scheduled to address the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture in Albuquerque, N.M., on Monday.
The National Farmers Union will also be holding its fall fly-in this week and will meet on Monday with Ted McKinney, USDA’s undersecretary for trade; Greg Ibach, the undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs; and Richard Fordyce, the administrator of the Farm Service Agency.
House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, will continue moving bills that send messages for the 2020 campaign, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., maintains his focus on confirming judicial nominations and administration officials.
Still unclear is whether the Senate will take up legislation to tighten gun regulations in the wake of the recent mass shootings. McConnell has indicated he will follow Trump’s lead.
The House this week will take up three bills that will block oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sep. 9
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture annual meeting through Thursday, Albuquerque, N.M.
National Farmers Union fall legislative fly-in, through Wednesday.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Sep. 10
10 a.m. - House Small Business subcommittee hearing, “Growing the Clean Energy Economy,” 2360 Rayburn.
11:30 a.m. - Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2020 spending bill, 124 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Sep. 11
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nomination of Aurelia Skipwith to be director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, Sep. 12
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider FY20 subcommittee allocations and the FY20 Defense, Energy-Water, State-Foreign Operations and Labor-HHS spending bills, 106 Dirksen.
Friday, Sep. 13
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