Lawmakers are trying to wrap up deals this week on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and fiscal 2020 government spending while the Trump administration faces a self-imposed deadline for getting a partial trade agreement with China.
Also this week, the House is scheduled to debate the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would expand the H-2A visa program to include year-round workers while also providing existing undocumented farm workers a path to legal status. The bill has GOP co-sponsors but many conservative Republicans say the legalization provisions amount to a form of amnesty.
The White House and Mexico agreed on changes to the USMCA agreement and submitted them for approval to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the weekend, according to news reports.
“I’m confident. We’re close” to a deal, Jesús Seade, Mexico’s top North American negotiator, told Agri-Pulse and other news outlets Saturday.
House Democrats are focused on continuing the process of impeaching President Donald Trump — the House Judiciary Committee resumes its hearings Monday morning — but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Friday that a USMCA vote was possible as soon as this week if the implementing text is ready.
Meanwhile, Congress is facing a Dec. 20 deadline to reach an agreement on the fiscal 2020 spending bills or else pass yet another continuing resolution to keep the government funded at FY19 levels.
A senior GOP House appropriator, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said it’s in both parties’ interest to reach agreement on FY20 spending legislation since a budget agreement reached this summer allows for billions in higher spending on both defense and domestic programs.
“It behooves everyone to come a deal,” Cole said.
As for China, Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on Chinese products next Sunday if he can’t reach a “phase one” trade deal that would include commitments from China to significantly increase its imports of U.S. farm commodities.
But Larry Kudlow, chairman of Trump’s National Economic Council, told reporters on Friday that talks were taking place “around the clock” and that a deal was close. He also acknowledged that Trump could follow through with the tariff increase while simultaneously saying there were “no arbitrary deadlines.”
“The president has characterized these talks as constructive and I don’t want to make any forecasts about any dates,” he said.
Also this week, the Senate could take up the nomination of cancer expert Stephen Hahn to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture last Thursday on Hahn, setting up a preliminary vote on his nomination.
Hahn, who is chief medical executive at the MD Cancer Center in Houston, should have no problem getting confirmed. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved his nomination last week, 18-5, even though the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, said she feared he wouldn’t take action against e-cigarettes.
Rural broadband will get attention on and off Capitol Hill this week.
On Monday, the first meeting of a special task created by the Federal Communications Commission to review connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture will be held. The 2018 farm bill included a provision directing the FCC to set up the group.
The task force working groups will include one focused on mapping and analyzing connectivity on ag lands and chaired by Michael Adelaine, vice president for technology and security at South Dakota State University.
A second working group assigned to study current and future connectivity demand will be chaired by Daniel Leibfried, director of John Deere’s advanced technology, intelligent solutions group. Mississippi Farm Bureau President Mike McCormick will chair a third group that will focus on how precision agriculture will affect the demand for skilled labor.
Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced a plan for a 5G fund that would set aside at least $1 billion specifically for facilitating precision agriculture.
Also this week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will vote Wednesday on a bill co-sponsored by Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota and called the 5G Spectrum Act, which is designed to ensure mid-band spectrum is quickly available in the market through a public auctioning process.
Also on Monday, USDA’s Farm Service Agency opens the first general signup in four years for the Conservation Reserve Program. The enrollment period will end Feb. 28.
Contracts on 800,000 acres of land expired this fall and contracts on an additional 5.2 million acres are scheduled to expire in September 2020. There were 22 million acres enrolled in CRP as of Oct. 1. The 2018 farm bill raised the acreage cap on CRP from 24 million acres to 24.5 million for FY20 and will increase the limit to 27 million by 2023.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Dec. 9.
American Seed Trade Association’s CSS and Seed Expo 2019, though Thursday, Chicago.
Tuesday, Dec. 10
9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum, “Exploring Outcome-Based Pricing in Agriculture,” National Press Club.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on international food aid programs, 1300 Longworth.
3:45 p.m. - House Rules Committee meeting to consider the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, Capitol H-313.
Wednesday, Dec. 11
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee holds Member Day hearing, 1300 Longworth.
2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on agricultural credit conditions, 1300 Longworth.
Thursday, Dec. 12
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases weekly Export Sales report.
9:30 a.m. - Resources for the Future forum on recent regulatory changes for the Endangered Species Act, 1400 16th St. NW.
Friday, Dec. 13
Noon - Faith and Law forum,” I Was Hungry: Cultivating Common Ground to End An American Crisis,” 2359 Rayburn.
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