Congress must pass a new stopgap spending bill this week to avoid a government shutdown ahead of the Thanksgiving break, while House Democrats look to nail down a deal with the White House to clear the way for approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. 

It is also a pivotal week for a trade deal with Japan, where lawmakers will be considering an agreement to phase down tariffs on U.S. agricultural commodities.

The most pressing matter for Congress is to pass a new continuing resolution before Friday to keep the government funded until Dec. 20. The CR that has been funding the government since fiscal 2020 started Oct. 1 expires on Thursday. 

The House and Senate are nowhere near an agreement on the FY20 spending legislation. Congressional leaders have yet to even agree on spending limits for the 12 bills that fund the government each year. Congressional Democrats have been at an impasse with the White House over President Donald Trump’s demands for new spending on the border wall. 

Meanwhile, time is running short for congressional approval of the USMCA before the 2020 presidential primary season gets underway. 

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal told Agri-Pulse that he hoped this week to get the written text of policies the White House has agreed to for enforcement of labor and environmental standards. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly news conference on Thursday that a deal was “imminent.” 

Finalizing that agreement this week would clear the way for the Congress to take up the USMCA implementing legislation sometime after the Thanksgiving break. The bill must be considered first in the House. 

The fast-track negotiating authority that the bill will be considered under sets a 90-day limit for debating and voting on the legislation but it is likely to be passed by both chambers in short order, since Democrats will have negotiated their demands ahead of time. The implementing bill cannot be amended. 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, speaking to farm broadcasters on Friday in Kansas City, Mo., expressed confidence that Congress would approve the agreement before the end of the year. 

“I’m optimistic it will get done. In light of everything else going on in Washington, D.C., both Democrats and Republicans need to go home over the Christmas break and say this got done,” Perdue said. 

Perdue said Lighthizer “has done a marvelous job patiently addressing” the issues raised by Democrats.  

Perdue was more guarded about when the White House and China will announce a “phase one” agreement that is supposed to include Chinese pledges for increased purchases of U.S. farm commodities. 

“The President is committed to doing this phase one deal if it’s in the best interest of the United States. … The ball is in their court,” Perdue said, referring to the Chinese. 

Also on the trade front, Japan’s House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on a recently concluded agricultural trade deal with the United States, and the Diet’s upper chamber is expected to take up the agreement the following day. 

In Washington on Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on trade will hold a hearing on the agreement.

Also this week, Senate Republicans are moving quickly to install a Texas cancer expert as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the nomination of Stephen Hahn, a top executive at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Trump announced Nov. 1 that he intended to nominate Hahn to replace Ned Sharpless, whose term as acting commissioner ended that day. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., quickly endorsed Hahn's nomination and scheduled Wednesday's hearing. 

Sharpless had been serving in the post since Scott Gottlieb left the agency in April. 

Hahn’s to-do list at FDA would include finishing implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which involves revising critical standards for irrigation water, and carrying out a White House directive to accelerate the commercialization of new agricultural biotechnology products. FDA also is developing regulations for CBD products, a key market for hemp producers, and has launched an initiative to improve food safety through the use of new technologies. 

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Nov. 18

4 p.m. - USDA releases the weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, Nov. 19

9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum, “Global Agricultural Productivity & Hunger: Are We Doing Enough?” National Press Club. 

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “Review of Credit Conditions: Report from the Farm Credit Administration,” 1300 Longworth.

2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on USDA’s Office of Civil Rights, 1300 Longworth. 

Wednesday, Nov. 20

Sustainable Agriculture Summit, through Thursday, Indianapolis.

10 a.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on U.S.-Japan trade agreements, 2020 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination of Stephen Hahn to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, 430 Dirksen.

Thursday, Nov. 21

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases weekly Export Sales report. 

10:00 a.m. - Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources hearing on Secure Rural Schools, Payments in Lieu of Taxes programs and related bills, 366 Dirksen.

11 a.m. - Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auctions programs, 138 Dirksen.

3 p.m. - USDA releases annual Farm Labor report. 

Friday, Nov. 22

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