The Senate will vote this week on a new commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration and will likely extend Friday’s deadline for keeping the government funded, clearing the way for negotiators to finalize a government-wide, fiscal 2022 spending bill.
FDA regulates nearly 80% of the U.S. food supply, essentially everything other than meat, poultry and some egg products, but has been without a Senate-confirmed commissioner since President Joe Biden took office more than a year ago.
Biden’s nominee, cardiologist Robert Califf, has run into opposition from some Democrats because of his ties to pharmaceutical companies, while some Republicans have turned against him over FDA's decision to ease access to abortion pills.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has filed cloture on the Califf pick, teeing up a vote to advance the nomination as soon as Tuesday.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the Democrats opposed to Califf’s nomination, conceded to reporters Thursday that he “can’t stop it from happening.”
FDA’s senior leadership team for food policy has remained in place during the Biden administration, including Frank Yiannas, the deputy commissioner for food policy and response, who was appointed to the agency during the Trump administration.
But some major food issues await the new commissioner’s decisions, including a proposal to shift some oversight of animal biotechnology to the Agriculture Department. Then-FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn refused to sign a memorandum of understanding in the final days of the Trump administration that would have started the transfer of regulatory authority, but USDA has continued to pursue the plan under Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
FDA, meanwhile, is deciding when manufacturers can label products as "healthy," which is now done for about 5% of all packaged foods. FDA also is due to finalize new safety rules for water used to grow produce, and the agency is considering revoking a health claim that consumption of soy protein can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
The Senate also is due this week to approve a House-passed continuing resolution to keep the government funded at FY21 levels through March 11. A CR enacted in December expires this Friday.
The three-week, March 11 extension is designed to give congressional appropriators time to finish negotiating an FY22 omnibus bill. Lawmakers announced an agreement on a framework for the bill last week.
The extension is needed not just to keep the government funded but also to maintain legal authority for USDA’s livestock price reporting system. Authority for the system was scheduled to expire last September but has been temporarily extended by successive CRs.
Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill, which includes $555 billion in climate-related measures, remains on life support in the Senate. At stake is $80 billion in agriculture and forestry spending, including $20 billion for farm bill conservation programs and a new payment program for cover crops.
Manchin, whose vote is crucial to pushing even a portion of the bill through the 50-50 Senate, has indicated he could support some provisions but remains concerned about inflation, and January’s Consumer Price Index only raised fresh concerns for Democrats. Supermarket prices rose a full 1% in January, contributing to a 0.6% rise in the CPI.
Manchin wants to see a downward trajectory in inflation and agreed with reporters that could take months. “Inflation is a tax. Inflation is a tax on every human being in America,” Manchin said.
Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who appeared with Biden in her rural Virginia district on the heels of the CPI release, acknowledged that inflation is a major concern for voters.
“When you're worried about the gas pump or you’re worried about the cost of chicken in the grocery store, and your child is diabetic — all those things become impactful,” she said.
Also this week, FDA's Yiannas, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., will speak Wednesday at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture's annual winter policy conference.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Feb. 14
National Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting through Wednesday, Orlando
Crop insurance industry annual convention, through Wednesday, Indian Wells, Calif.
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture winter policy conference, Arlington, Va.
Tuesday, Feb. 15
Noon — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on a USDA inspector general report on USDA oversight of civil rights complaints.
Wednesday, Feb. 16
10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard, 106 Dirksen.
Noon — House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, ”Connecting America: Oversight of NTIA.
3 p.m. — USDA releases USDA Agricultural Projections to 2031.
Thursday, Feb. 17
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
Friday, Feb. 18
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