Congressional Democrats will use this week to build their case for two major priorities: a multi-trillion dollar climate and infrastructure package and a child nutrition reauthorization bill that could be used to increase the number of kids who can get free meals at school and year-round.
Also this week, the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the nomination of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be labor secretary, who would be in charge of enforcing wage and worker safety standards and administering the H-2A visa program for imported farmworkers.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Michael Regan will headline the annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit, which focuses on “Climate Risks, Rewards and Uncertainties.” The online conference starts Monday and runs through Wednesday.
On Monday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a dispute involving a farming operation over a California law allowing union representatives to access private property for the purpose of organizing.
The Senate Agriculture Committee, which is expected to move a child nutrition bill this spring, will hold a hearing on Thursday to set the stage for drafting the legislation.
“We need to make sure that children have access to healthy food at breakfast, at lunch, after school, frankly whenever they're hungry, and that they aren't shamed over a meal debt,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said last week during the online National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference.
Congress hasn't reauthorized child nutrition programs — which include the national school lunch and breakfast programs, summer feeding programs and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance program — since 2010 when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama.
The School Nutrition Association and anti-hunger advocates are urging Congress to make school lunch and breakfast free to all students, regardless of income, or to at least increase the number of schools with lower-income student populations where meals are available at no cost.
Nutrition advocates also will be lobbying lawmakers to increase nutrition standards for school meals by reducing sodium limits and restricting added sugars for the first time.
Meanwhile, Democrats also are preparing to draft a bill — or a series of bills — to carry out President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” promises to pour money into infrastructure and clean energy, with funding to be provided by tax increases. The estimated cost of the package ranges up to $4 trillion.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who holds a critical swing vote in the 50-50 Senate, welcomed discussions about breaking the package into pieces so that Democrats could work with Republicans on elements of the spending plan. "It's about time we do something bipartisan,” Manchin told reporters last week.
Presumably, the tax increases used to pay for the package would move through the budget reconciliation process, which wouldn’t require Senate GOP votes.
On Monday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on an infrastructure plan, called the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, backed by top House Democrats, including the committee’s chairman, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
The bill would authorize $80 billion for broadband expansion, $70 billion for clean energy infrastructure and energy efficiency measures, and $42 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, including development of batteries and installation of charging stations, as well as improvements to ports.
On Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on the Biden administration’s infrastructure priorities with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
In the California case that the Supreme Court is considering on Monday, Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Co. allege that the state law, by allowing organizers onto properties for three times a day, 120 days a year, amounts to a “taking” that requires compensation. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that position, finding that there was no taking because there was no “permanent physical occupation” of the property.
The implications of a decision in favor of the companies are hotly debated. Five U.S. senators who filed a brief in opposition to the companies said the “expansion of (the Supreme Court’s) takings doctrine would threaten a host of federal, state, and local public safety and welfare laws that require government access to private property.”
But Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Damien Schiff says the regulation “has nothing to do with assuring growers’ compliance with health and safety rules or worker protection laws.” Instead, it is “an unconstitutional gift of access to a well-connected, nongovernmental party seeking to expand its own membership.” PLF is representing the petitioners.
Ag groups including the Western Growers Association and American Farm Bureau Federation have filed briefs supporting the companies.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, March 22
Fifth Annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit, through Wednesday.
10 a.m. — Supreme Court hears arguments in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid.
Tuesday, March 23
10 a.m. — House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, “Wood Innovation: Sustainable Forest Products to Reinvigorate Rural Economies.”
10 a.m. — House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, “Building Back Better: Examining the Future of America's Public Lands.”
11 a.m. — House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on implementation of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, 2167 Rayburn.
2 p.m. — Consumer Federation of America’s Virtual Food Policy Series, “A New Day at USDA for Food Safety?”
Wednesday, March 24
2 p.m. — House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the rural economy with the chairmen of the Farm Credit System Insurance Corp. and the Farm Credit Administration.
2:30 p.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on western water infrastructure. 366 Dirksen.
Thursday, March 25
9 a.m. — USDA releases the monthly Food Price Outlook.
9:30 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on reauthorization of child nutrition programs. 106 Dirksen.
11 a.m. — House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the Biden administration’s priorities for infrastructure, 2167 Rayburn.
Noon — House Agriculture Committee hearing to review the state of Black farmers.
Friday, March 26
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
2 p.m. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to a National Press Club Virtual Headliners event.
Steve Davies contributed to this report.
For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com