President Joe Biden heads to Brussels for meetings this week with European Union for discussions likely to touch on ongoing trade disputes while Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heads to Capitol Hill to face questioning about his policy plans.
While Biden is in Europe, there are expected to be continued discussions between the White House and a bipartisan group of 10 senators over a massive infrastructure package. Last week, the group tentatively agreed on a deal worth about $1 trillion over five years, still short of what Biden is seeking.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai will join Biden in Brussels for meetings with EU counterparts and then for Tuesday’s U.S.-EU summit.
Briefing reporters on plans for the EU meeting, a senior administration official said, “We will be addressing the trade and technology and other challenges in the U.S.-EU relationship and also the opportunities those issues present so that we can focus on writing the rules of the road on these issues together as democracies, and not leave that work to the autocracies of the world,"
U.S. industry groups, including a number representing agriculture interests, have been pushing Biden to end tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that have resulted in retaliatory duties on American products, including select cheeses as well as agricultural equipment, distilled spirits, potatoes, nuts, fruits, juices, chocolate and ketchup.
Biden, who spent the weekend at the G-7 Summit in England, will be in Geneva on Wednesday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A White House official said Biden would be “candid and straightforward” with Putin and that there would be both a larger working session and a smaller meeting.
Meanwhile in Washington, Vilsack will appear Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, where he is likely to get questions on a wide range of issues, including his plans for using the Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority to promote the development of carbon markets.
Other issues likely to come up include his plans for fully reopening USDA field offices as well as concerns about cattle pricing.
The Biden administration last Friday released its new regulatory agenda, which includes plans for a series of rules to address processors market power with producers as well as plans to move forward with giving USDA regulatory authority over biotech food animals.
Also on Tuesday, USDA will start making more than $1 billion in payments under the Quality Loss Adjustment Program and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus. The payments cover losses that farmers suffered in 2018 and 2019. Those programs are top concerns of the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee’s top Republican, John Hoeven of North Dakota.
Producers who received their first WHIP+ payment will receive a second payment for eligible losses. Due to budget constraints, producers received only half their initial WHIP+ payment for 2019 crop losses. The second payment will be worth 40% of the eligible payment. A third round of payments may be issued if there is enough money left.
Even though Biden is on the road, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Cabinet officials and senior White House staff would be working with the group of 10 senators on a possible infrastructure deal.
“Questions need to be addressed, particularly around the details of both policy and pay-fors,” he said.
In a joint statement, the group of 10 senators said they would be discussing their proposal with colleagues and were "optimistic that this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support from both parties and meet America’s infrastructure needs.”
The 10 senators are Bill Cassidy, R-La., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mark Warner, D-Va.
North Carolina Rep. David Rouzer, a senior Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he is hopeful the senators can agree to a deal with the White House.
“I prefer to be an optimist and not a pessimist, and you know this is one issue where there really should be a good strong bipartisan compromise,” he said in an Agri-Pulse Washington Week in Review interview.
Last week, Democrats who control the House committee pushed through a partisan $547 billion plan over the strenuous objections of Rouzer and other Republicans. Among the provisions they don’t like is one that would require states to consider lower-carbon alternatives such as public transit to widening highways. "People are afraid of change, I get that, but it's time," said Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
The full House is expected to take up the bill the week of June 28.
Some industry groups, including agriculture organizations, continue to push lawmakers to reach a bipartisan deal.
“Instead of working to drive bipartisan consensus and building on recent momentum in the Senate, the House committee majority has cast its lot on backwards-looking, divisive policies that will stand in the way of a successful reauthorization,” said Ian Jefferies, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.
The House, meanwhile, is moving toward more normalized floor procedures for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, although proxy voting will continue to be allowed.
Masks will be optional for fully vaccinated lawmakers on the House floor, and the House is ending the practice of having members vote in groups, a process that limited the number of lawmakers on the floor at any one time.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, June 14
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, June 15
10 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 124 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, 366 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the nomination of Jeffrey Prieto to be general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency, 406 Dirksen.
Wednesday, June 16
10 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee hearing on 1890 land grant institutions.
10 a.m. — House Small Business subcommittee hearing, “Supporting Small Entities through Investments in the National Infrastructure: Broadband,” 2360 Rayburn.
10 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, 215 Dirksen.
10 a.m. — Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, 124 Dirksen.
Thursday, June 15
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the U.S. Forest Service, 366 Dirksen.
Friday, June 16
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