Georgia Rep. David Scott is one step away from becoming the first Black chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Tuesday night selected Scott over California Rep. Jim Costa by a vote of 32-19. 

Scott would succeed Collin Peterson, who lost his re-election race. The Georgia Democrat still must be approved by the full Democratic caucus. 

In announcing his candidacy for the post, Scott said every action of the committee “must take a step forward toward building a more equitable, dynamic, and resilient agriculture industry that lays forth a new path for future generations.” 

Read our story on Scott’s selection here

Farm program critic picked for spending post

The steering committee recommended Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has repeatedly and vocally challenged USDA over farm programs, food safety regulation and other issues, for the chairmanship of House Appropriations. 

Earlier this year, DeLauro slammed USDA’s inspector general for not moving more quickly to investigate the Market Facilitation Program. “They can employ the same waste, fraud and abuse which is ongoing right now in this program, and you are not doing anything about it,” she said.

Keep in mind: Although appropriators have often imposed policy changes on departments through bill riders, DeLauro would have a lot of other issues on her plate as well as a closely divided House to deal with. The Senate Appropriations Committee also would fight any policy moves opposed by farm groups. 

“If you have a Republican Senate, it would be easy to see (Senate Ag Appropriations Chairman John) Hoeven pushing back on any potential policy riders included by Chairwoman DeLauro or the House that would impact crop insurance or curtail farm payments,” said T.A. Hawks, a lobbyist with Monument Advocacy and former GOP staffer. 

For a look at the candidates to become Joe Biden’s agriculture secretary, be sure and read our weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also look at the challenges facing Biden if he wants to use crop insurance to promote climate-friendly farming practices. 

Key senator wary of USDA carbon payments

The senator who will be the chairman or top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee isn’t sold yet on the idea of using USDA to buy ag carbon offsets from farmers. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., tells Agri-Pulse he’s not closed to the idea of using the Commodity Credit Corp. account for that purpose, but he has concerns about how the carbon credits would work as well as how much money would be needed. 

“That’s something we really need to discuss,” Boozman said. “The CCC hasn’t been used for things like that in the past.” He also said he wants to make sure the payments benefit farmers and not just companies marketing the credits. 

The idea of using the CCC to set up a carbon bank is being pushed by the leader of Joe Biden’s USDA transition team, Robert Bonnie. It’s not clear whether a Biden administration would try to get congressional approval for the idea. 

The top Democrat on the Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said she thinks “there’s a lot of work to do to flesh out” the concept, but she generally supports ag carbon trading. She’s a co-sponsor of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would put USDA in charge of certifying third-party verifiers of carbon credits. 

“Creating a new commodity, carbon, … would be very beneficial as a new revenue stream as well as helping with the climate crisis,” she told Agri-Pulse

Senate Ag to focus on research, Roberts’ legacy

Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will hold what is likely to be his final hearing today as the committee focuses on one of his priority issues, agricultural research. Former Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, a fellow Kansan, will be among the witnesses. 

Roberts is retiring after four decades in Congress, and Stabenow sees the hearing as a chance to showcase Roberts’ leadership on ag research. “I want to have a chance to say thank you to him again,” she said. 

Roberts, for his part, said he wants the hearing to be forward-looking, to “look down the road and see what we may be facing.”

Hill sees flurry of stimulus proposals

Republicans, Democrats, and the Trump administration are holding out hope of reaching a deal on additional coronavirus relief while also agreeing to a government-wide spending bill for fiscal 2021. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters the omnibus bill and COVID aid would likely be part of a single package.

McConnell began circulating a new coronavirus relief plan on Tuesday after receiving a proposal from Pelosi Monday night. Pelosi said Tuesday more COVID relief should be passed in the lame-duck session.

By the way: A bipartisan group of senators is proposing a $908 billion coronavirus relief package. Democrats have been pushing for more than $2 trillion in spending. 

Ontario applauded for ethanol plan

When Canadians consume more ethanol, U.S. producers sell more and that’s why the U.S.-based Growth Energy is applauding Ontario for its plan to increase its dependence on renewable fuels as part of the province’s new Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.

“Ontario’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases through higher ethanol blended fuel is a win for North American farmers and biofuel producers,” says Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor, who stressed the group is “encouraged by Ontario’s decisive action to implement a 15% renewable fuel content goal, and the positive effect it will have on its environment and the agriculture industry.”  

The U.S. exported 320 million gallons of ethanol to Canada for the 12-month period through August, making it the number one foreign customer for U.S. producers, according to Growth Energy.

Grassley: Dems hold up extension of tariff exemptions

Democratic lawmakers are holding up a plan to extend for 15 months a U.S. program that exempts developing nations from some tariffs in order to bolster their economies, says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to get the extension of the Generalized System of Preferences added to an omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the year, but says House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on Senate Finance, are holding it “as a hostage” to proffer “Democratic trade priorities” such as combating human rights abuses and international corruption.

“I think those are good goals,” but using GSP to get them “is not very appropriate,” Grassley told reporters. 

She said it. “This vote is a sign that our caucus is unified and ready for bold, pragmatic actions to deliver results for the American people.” – Rep. Rosa DeLauro, on winning the steering panel’s recommendation to chair the Appropriations Committee.

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