With another government funding deadline looming a month from now, Senate Republicans want to advance a fiscal 2020 domestic spending package as soon as this week that would include funding for departments and agencies critical to agriculture and the food industry. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has teed up votes on a pair of FY20 spending packages, one of which is expected to include the Senate version of the Agriculture and Interior-Environment bills, which would fund the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration, Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Senate passage of the package will allow the House and Senate to negotiate a final version of the measures. 

The Senate version of the Agriculture bill would set up a fight with the House over Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City region. The House version of the FY20 bill has a provision to block the relocation, while the Senate version would provide funding for the move. 

The Senate bill also includes a provision requiring a study of the impact of USDA’s new bioengineered labeling rules on salmon consumers before a genetically engineered version of the fish can be marketed. 

The clock is ticking on the spending negotiations. A continuing resolution that has been funding the government since the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1 will expire Nov. 21. Lawmakers will likely need to pass another extension to allow for more time to finish work on the FY20 bills. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Agri-Pulse he “would love to” see appropriations bills on the Senate floor this week and reiterated members are “working on it.”

Meanwhile in the House, negotiations between Democrats and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer over the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement are intensifying. “I can honestly say that I think every day we're becoming closer,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said during her weekly press conference on Thursday.

Last week, a small group of House Democrats assigned by Pelosi to work out an agreement with Lighthizer on Democrats' concerns with the USMCA met three days in a row with Lighthizer to hash out differences over enforcement of labor standards and other concerns. Before Congress broke for a two-week recess earlier this month the group had been meeting only about once a week.

A member of the working group, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said the increased frequency of meetings should be viewed as positive.

“If this were falling apart, there wouldn’t be any meetings,” she told reporters. “The substance will drive the timing as to whether or not we say yes.”

The Democrats' top negotiator, Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D- Mass., said Thursday “there’s still a way to go.” He did not speculate whether the chamber would vote on the agreement before Thanksgiving.

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, said in an Agri-Pulse Open Mic interview that the administration and the government of Mexico were working to address the concerns Democrats have with labor and  environmental standards. "I think the House Democrats are ready to support the bill," he said. 

Monday, Oct. 21

All day — Food and Drug Administration public meeting on food safety, Rockville, Md.

11 a.m. — Council for Agricultural Science and Technology briefing on pesticide residues in food, 328A Russell. Additional briefings at noon at 1302 Longworth and 2:30 p.m. at CropLife America, 1156 15th St NW. 

4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, Oct. 22

9 a.m. — Farm Foundation forum on the farm economy, National Press Club.

10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing on energy efficiency, 366 Dirksen.

2 p.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on precision agriculture, 1300 Longworth 

Wednesday, Oct. 23

10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on water infrastructure, 406 Dirksen.

Thursday, Oct. 24

Friday, Oct. 25

For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com.