Senate negotiators look to finalize and advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week, while the House debates a package of appropriations bills that would sharply increase funding for the Agriculture Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other departments and agencies important to agriculture.
In a flurry of activity ahead of the long August recess, the Senate Agriculture Committee will also vote on one of President Joe Biden’s top USDA nominees and hold a confirmation hearing on two others.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday the House Agriculture Committee will consider a two-year extension of a key disaster assistance program, known as WHIP+. The Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program was initiated as a temporary program to help producers recover from major disasters that started in 2017 and then expanded to cover natural disasters in 2018 and 2019.
On the global front, a UN-led initiative to jump-start progress toward eradicating hunger, shrinking agriculture’s environmental impact and addressing other sustainability goals moves to a new stage this week: The UN Food Systems Summit is holding a “pre-summit” starting Monday in Rome and online. The actual summit will take place in New York in September.
On Capitol Hill, senators negotiating the final details of the infrastructure package said they hoped to have details ready by Monday. Last week, Republicans blocked a procedural motion to take up the bill, arguing they had to see the actual legislative text first.
“There are some thorny issues, but we can get it done,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told Fox News on Saturday.
There were still disagreements last week over how to pay for the $579 billion in new spending as well as on issues such as the relative shares of funding going to mass transit and highways. But the White House was also optimistic about the negotiations heading into the weekend.
“They’re having conversations, and we believe they can work through any disagreement,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
The House could pass most of its fiscal 2022 spending bills this week, starting with a bundle of seven measures that include the Agriculture bill, which funds USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; the Interior-Environment bill, which funds EPA and the Interior Department; the Labor-HHS bill, which funds the Labor Department; and the Energy-Water bill, which includes funding for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The package would sharply increase funding for regulatory agencies, while the Agriculture bill earmarks $374 million for climate-related research and other work at USDA. The legislation would provide an increase of more than 20% for EPA.
The House Rules Committee will meet Monday afternoon to decide what proposed amendments to the package will be debated on the House floor.
The amendments under consideration include a bipartisan proposal to expand the number of communities eligible for USDA rural broadband funding. Another bipartisan amendment would provide an additional $5 million to the Natural Resources Conservation Service to expand its staff.
Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee will vote Monday evening on the nomination of Jennifer Moffitt to be USDA’s undersecretary for marketing regulatory programs, a position where she should have a key role in carrying out the administration’s initiatives to rebalance the market power of meat and poultry processors.
On Thursday, the committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Robert Bonnie to be undersecretary for farm production and conservation and for former New Mexico Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, President Joe Biden’s pick to be undersecretary for rural development. Bonnie, who has been serving as Vilsack’s chief climate policy adviser, was undersecretary for natural resources and the environment during the Obama administration.
Neither nominee is expected to face much, if any, opposition, but Bonnie is likely to be questioned about the administration's plans for an ag carbon bank, which in concept would use USDA's Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority to put a floor under carbon prices.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the meatpacking industry will be the focus of a pair of hearings, one by the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose top Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, has long sought to require packers to buy more of their cattle on the open market. A House Agriculture subcommittee will hold the second hearing.
On Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on prospects for indoor agriculture, which is expanding quickly as producers try to fill consumer demand for fresh produce.
“In order to address 21st Century problems, we must explore innovative solutions. It has long been a priority of mine to reduce trade deficits on specialty crops and increase affordable access to healthy food for all Americans,” said committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga.
As for the UN Food Systems Summit, the leader of the initiative, Special Envoy Agnes Kalibata, told Agri-Pulse that she wanted nations to come to the pre-summit with strategies for how they are going to transform their food systems to meet the sustainable development goals.
“We are all committed, we meaning the global agricultural community ... to the capacity of agriculture to supply ample food, efficiently and sustainably produced at an affordable cost to consumers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Agri-Pulse.
Vilsack said there needs to be a “robust commitment” globally to help farmers benefit economically from reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh will lead the U.S. delegation.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, July 26
UN Food Systems Summit pre-summit meeting, through Wednesday
2 p.m. — House Rules Committee meeting to consider rule for a combined fiscal 2022 appropriations measure that includes the Agriculture, Labor-HHS, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, Military Construction and Transportation-HUD bills, H-313 Capitol.
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
5:30 p.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee meeting to consider the nomination of Jennifer Moffitt to be USDA’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, S-216.
Tuesday, July 27
9:30 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing on implementation and enforcement of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, 215 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee meeting to consider a WHIP+ authorization bill.
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, 366 Dirksen.
Wednesday, July 28
9 a.m.— Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing (following committee business meeting) on the nomination of Ken Salazar to be ambassador to Mexico.
10 a.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “State of the Beef Supply Chain: Shocks, Recovery, and Rebuilding.”
10 a.m. — House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting to consider the Global Malnutrition Prevention and Treatment Act of 2021
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Army Corps of Engineers water projects, 406 Dirksen.
10:15 a.m. — House Education and Labor subcommittee hearing, “Food for Thought: Examining Federal Nutrition Programs for Young Children and Infants.”
2:30 p.m. — Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Beefing up Competition: Examining America’s Food Supply Chain,” 226 Dirksen.
Thursday, July 29
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee hearing on controlled environment agriculture.
10 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the nominations of Robert Bonnie to be USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation and Xochitl Torres Small to be undersecretary for rural development, G50 Dirksen.
Friday, July 30
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