In what is setting up to be an historic week on Capitol Hill, the House is poised to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement after a bitter debate over the impeachment of President Donald Trump, and lawmakers also are rushing to pass legislation to fund the government for fiscal 2020.
Also in the mix is a possible tax extenders package that could include a renewal of the $1-a-gallon tax credit for biodiesel. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was negotiating into the weekend to ensure that the biodiesel incentive is included in the year-year appropriations package, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, farmers and the agribusiness sector will be digesting news of Trump's "phase one" trade agreement with China. According to a senior trade official on Friday, China agreed to committed to purchasing $40 billion to $50 billion in U.S. farm commodities annually over the next two years. Agreements also were reached on addressing important trade barriers, including China's treatment of biotech crops, the White House said.
"You could think of it as $80 to $100 billion in new sales for agriculture over the course of the next two years. Just massive numbers," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.
Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He are tentatively scheduled to sign the finalized document in the first week of January.
House Democratic leaders are setting up the vote on the USMCA implementing bill to be the capstone of the year’s legislative session by likely scheduling it after this week’s impeachment debate.
The White House submitted the text of the USMCA bill to Congress on Thursday, and a House Ways and Means Committee announced a meeting for Tuesday to vote on the measure, which would carry out agreement to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.
USMCA could pass the House by a landslide, potentially easing some of the week’s political pain for moderate and rural Democrats who vote for impeachment. Trade agreements are normally highly contentious issues.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, emphatically predicted that the bill would get at least 100 Democrats would support USMCA. “A lot of people don't give a lot of credit to the Mexicans but the Mexicans did historic labor reform,” addressing a key issue for Democrats, Cuellar said.
However, Mexico is now protesting a provision tucked into the recently revised U.S. version of the USMCA that calls for the U.S. to install five new attaches in Mexico to monitor the country’s labor reform efforts.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a New York Democrat who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said that the USMCA vote “better get done” this week, regardless of whether the vote comes before or after impeachment.
Passage of the USMCA, coupled with last week’s approval of a bill expanding the H-2A farmworker visa program are “big, huge wins for our district,” said Brindisi.
The Senate will not consider the USMCA bill until January after it conducts a trial on the articles of impeachment, but senators will need to approve the FY20 legislation this week. A continuing resolution that has been funding the government at FY19 spending levels expires Friday.
Leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees reached a tentative agreement in principle on the 12 spending bills last Thursday, but they were still working on details, according to aides.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would likely vote Tuesday on the FY20 bills, which would likely be packaged into one or two larger measures.
Also this week, USDA is expected to release a rule implementing a series of changes that the 2018 farm bill made in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The farm bill cut the funding allocation for livestock-related practices from 60% to 50% and also modified the program to direct more aid to improving water quality and conserving water. Irrigation and drainage entities were also made eligible for EQIP subsidies for water conservation
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Dec. 16
Tuesday, Dec. 17
9:30 a.m. — Resources for the Future forum, “Healthy Soils for a Healthier Planet,” 1400 16th St. NW.
10 a.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, "Access to Conservation Programs by Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers,” 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. — House Ways and Means Committee meeting to consider the implementing bill for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, 1100 Longworth.
10:30 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee meeting to consider bills dealing with USDA's National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and lands issues, 328A Russell.
Wednesday, Dec. 18
Thursday, Dec. 19
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases weekly Export Sales report.
3 p.m. — House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing, “Climate Change, Part IV: Current Economic Effects of Climate Change and the Costs of Inaction,”
Friday, Dec. 20
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