Congress returns from a two-week break with the deepening impeachment battle clouding prospects for budget and tax issues important to U.S. agriculture, and there is continued uncertainty about when lawmakers will take up the U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement.
The government is operating under a stopgap spending bill that runs until Nov. 21, and the House and Senate have yet to reach agreement on any of the agency funding measures for fiscal 2020, which started Oct. 1.
Also on the congressional to-do list is a possible extension of expired tax incentives, including the lapsed $1-a-gallon tax credit for biodiesel. The tax extenders could be folded into whatever fiscal 2020 omnibus spending legislation Congress eventually passes, said a biofuel industry lobbyist.
The fate of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement hinges on House Democrats reaching agreement with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on measures to enforce labor and environmental standards and to address pharmaceutical pricing.
A group of Democrats recently met with Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador to discuss his country’s commitments to enforce labor protections. One of those Democrats, House Ways and Means Committee member Jimmy Panetta of California described the meeting as positive and said he hopes "to see Mexico implement the substantial labor and enforcement reforms necessary to comply with its obligations under the agreement."
Even as Democrats press the impeachment investigation in the House, they will also be pushing back against the Trump administration on the policy front.
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will mark World Food Day with a hearing focusing on USDA’s handling of nutrition programs, including its three proposed rules that would slash the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Brandon Lipps, USDA’s, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, is scheduled to be the lone witness.
World Food Day "reminds us that millions of families around the world and here at home still struggle with putting healthy, nutritious meals on the table,” said the subcommittee chairman, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.
He and other Democrats have sharply criticized the SNAP rules, which would make it harder for states to get waivers from work requirements, reduce income eligibility limits in many states, and reduce benefits in many states by changing the way that recipients’ utility costs are calculated. Bishop called the rule that would reduce income eligibility limits “unconscionable and callous.”
In the Senate, Democrats will seek to put focus on the climate issue by forcing a vote on whether to kill the Trump administration's rule that rolled back Obama-era regulations on electric utility emissions.
Democrats are employing the same Congressional Review Act authority that Republicans used in 2017 to kill some regulations issued in the final months of the Obama administration. The difference this time is that Trump would veto the Democratic measure even if it passes both houses of Congress.
Senate Democrats plan to force a vote on additional CRA resolutions to address limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes and to reverse the Trump administration’s expansion of access to lower cost health insurance plans. Democrats call the plans “junk” because of their coverage limits.
Senate Republicans “have shunned vital proposals to improve American’s lives, including those to address the climate crisis and gun violence epidemic, save protections for people with pre-existing conditions, secure our elections, get big special interest money out of politics and more,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Oct. 14
Global Ethanol Summit, through Tuesday, Capital Hilton.
Tuesday, Oct. 15
4 p.m. - USDA releases Crop Progress report.
8 p.m. - Democratic presidential debate, Westerville, Ohio.
Wednesday, Oct. 16
World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, through Friday, Des Moines, Iowa.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USDA nutrition programs, 2362-A Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, “Feeding America: Making Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture a Reality,” 216 Hart.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the impact of diseases on wildlife management, 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, Oct. 17
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on USDA research programs, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on chronic wasting disease, 2008 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on farm bill implementation, 328A Russell.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing, “Reducing Emissions While Driving Economic Growth: Industry-led Initiatives,” 406 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on FCC's spectrum auction program,
Friday, Oct. 18
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