The Senate begins its impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump this week even as his successor pushes lawmakers to meet his demands for a $1.9 trillion package of coronavirus relief and economic stimulus measures.
The Senate and House cleared the way for Congress to pass the package without Republican support by approving a fiscal 2021 budget resolution on Friday. That was a crucial step that had to be taken before Democrats can use the budget reconciliation to pass the aid plan in the Senate without GOP votes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says the House committees will start working on specifics of the relief package this week with a goal of having the legislation passed and sent to the Senate within two weeks.
Numerous committees, including Agriculture, are responsible for pieces of the package. President Joe Biden’s proposed American Rescue Plan includes an extension through the summer of a 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and subsidies aimed at using financially strapped restaurants to feed the needy. An amendment adopted in the Senate also calls for establishing a relief fund for restaurants.
Larry Summers, who was director of the National Economic Council under former President Barack Obama, warned in an op-ed on Friday that Biden’s aid plan could “set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation” and waste money that would be better spent on addressing the nation’s long-term structural needs.
A group of 10 Senate Republicans put forward a smaller, $618 billion proposal, but Biden rejected it as inadequate.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on CNN State of the Union on Sunday that Biden's plan is critical to meet a range of needs in the economy, including people struggling to pay rent and continued food insecurity.
"We have 24 million adults and 12 million children that are going hungry every day. And we need to provide them with food. We have people suffering, particularly low- wage workers and minorities, and through absolutely no fault of their own," Yellen said. "We have to get them to the other side and make sure this doesn't take a permanent toll on their lives."
Meanwhile, Trump's second impeachment trial is set to start Tuesday, with Democrats hoping to wrap it up in a few days. Republicans say it's wasting time Democrats should be spending on his Cabinet nominations and legislation.
The Senate has been moving slowly to confirm his Cabinet nominees. Among those waiting this week for a floor vote is Tom Vilsack, who was nominated for a second stint as agriculture secretary, and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the nominee for energy secretary.
Biden’s nominee for EPA administrator, North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan, had his hearing last week and is now waiting for a vote of the Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel is scheduled to consider his nomination during a business meeting on Tuesday.
This week, two Senate committees will hold hearings for Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to direct the Office of Management and Budget, a powerful position because of OMB’s role in preparing the president’s budget and overseeing spending decisions and regulatory actions by the rest of the executive branch.
Tanden is president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. Under her leadership, CAP has released reports calling for reforms in farm policy, including measures to rein in the market power of input suppliers and processors. A report released month called for the Biden administration to take steps to require lenders and agribusiness to address the risks of climate change. Among the recommendations: The Farm Credit Administration should increase capital reserve requirements for the Farm Credit System, and the Securities and Exchange Commission should tighten agribusiness climate risk disclosure requirements.
During an online meeting with small-business owners last month, Tanden said rural broadband would be a top priority for the Biden administration. “I think we can hopefully create a large scale coalition that unites rural and urban communities to really get behind the level of investment we need," she said.
Farm groups are largely staying quiet on the Tanden nomination.
Thursday is an important day for farmers who rely on H-2A workers. USDA will release the annual Farm Labor Survey of farmworker wages. The survey will be used by the Labor Department to set the overdue minimum wage rates for H-2A workers.
The survey is usually released in November and the H-2A wage rates issued shortly thereafter. The Trump administration initially killed the Farm Labor Survey and issued a rule aimed at reducing future wage rates, but a California judge blocked both actions.
Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said he expected the Labor Department to issue the 2021 adverse effect wage rates within two weeks. The new wage rates are expected to be increased from 2020. The Trump administration plan would have frozen the rates at 2020 levels for 2021.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are continuing to hold hearings aimed at building the case for legislative action to address climate change. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday that will focus on the actions that the Biden administration has taken so far and what Congress could potentially do.
“Working together in tandem is critical if we are going to rebuild our economy and set down the path to net zero greenhouse gas pollution,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko, D-NY. said in a joint statement.
Senate Democrats left the door open to a carbon tax by defeating a Republican amendment to the FY21 budget resolution that called for ruling out such a revenue measure, which is designed to discourage consumption of fossil fuels. The amendment died on a 50-50 party-line vote.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Feb. 8
Washington International Trade Conference, online though Tuesday.
Tuesday, Feb. 9
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives annual meeting, online though Thursday.
9 a.m. — Annual Crop Insurance Convention, online only. Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant is a featured speaker.
9:15 a.m. — Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee confirmation hearing for Neera Tanden’s nomination to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, 342 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting to consider Michael Regan's nomination to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Noon — House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, "Back in Action: Restoring Federal Climate Leadership,” online only.
1 p.m. — Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary speaks on the future of restaurants post-COVID-19 in online National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker event.
Wednesday, Feb. 10
7:30 — A-State Agribusiness Conference. Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant speaks in the morning.
10 a.m. — Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing for OMB nominee Tanden, 608 Dirksen.
Thursday, Feb. 11
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
9 a.m. — National Cotton Council annual meeting general session.
2 p.m. — Congressional Budget Office releases updated budget projection.
3 p.m. — USDA releases Farm Labor Survey.
Friday, Feb. 12
Agri-Pulse hosts a webinar: Top rural issues in the New Congress: A discussion with Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and AEM’s Kip Eideberg. Agri-Pulse Managing Editor Spencer Chase serves as moderator. Register for this free webinar here.
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com.