President Joe Biden’s nominee to be his chief agricultural trade negotiator, Doug McKalip, gets a confirmation hearing this week that will allow Republicans to press their complaints that the administration isn’t trying to negotiate new trade agreements.

Also this week, a House committee will advance a child nutrition reauthorization bill that would expand eligibility for free lunches and increase meal subsidies for schools. The full House, which is scheduled to be in recess after Friday until mid-September, will consider a package of bills this week called the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has been without someone in the ag trade post since Gregg Doug held the position in the Trump administration. Elaine Trevino was nominated for the position in September 2021 but withdrew from consideration in March

McKalip, who first joined USDA in 1994 and now is a senior adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, was a senior policy adviser for rural affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider McKalip’s nomination on Thursday, have been sharply critical of Biden’s trade policy, primarily for its lack of interest in negotiating new agreements that could lower barriers to U.S. exports.

In a recent letter to McKalip, 21 GOP senators urged him to “become an advocate … for the prioritization and inclusion of market access commitments as part of U.S. trade discussions. Our farmers and ranchers are facing uncertain times due to the immense pressure of an exponential increase in input costs. Greater access to international markets for products we export would help alleviate some of that pressure.”

The senators who signed the letter included Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Thune of South Dakota and most of the other GOP members of Finance.

During McKalip's tenure at USDA, he has also been a senior adviser at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and legislative and public affairs director for Natural Resources Conservation Service.

On Wednesday, the House Education and Labor Committee will debate its new Health Meals, Healthy Kids Act, which would expand an existing community eligibility provision to allow more schools in lower-income areas to provide free meals to all students without verifying their individual eligibility. The bill would also increase the lunch reimbursement rate by 10 cents and add commodity assistance at a rate of 6 cents per meal, adjusted for inflation, for school breakfasts.

“One of the key lessons reaffirmed by our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that, when we invest in child nutrition programs, we help reduce child hunger,” said Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va.

The bill also would require USDA to modify school nutrition standards every 10 years to keep them in line with federal dietary guidelines. 

Congress hasn’t passed a child nutrition reauthorization bill since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted in 2010 to require USDA to raise nutrition standards for school meals.

The House bill likely has little future in the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs in the Senate, has made no move to bring out a version of the legislation. A GOP committee aide says there have been no staff conversations about the issue recently.

The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food directors, welcomed the community eligibility expansion and increased reimbursement. “As rising grocery prices leave families nationwide struggling to put food on the table, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act takes critical steps to expand access to free, healthy school meals,” said SNA President Lori Adkins.

The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act that the House will debate this week would, among other things, require USDA to implement a 10-year national plan to reduce the risk of wildfires while protecting old-growth forests and wildlife habitat. USDA would have five years to select up to 20 landscape-scale forest restoration projects to undertake.

A manager's amendment to the bill would require USDA to report on potential disaster losses in 2022 as well as the amount of payments being made under existing programs for 2020 and 2021 losses. USDA also would be required to disclose the number of farmers who have continued purchasing crop insurance beyond the two-year period necessary for receiving disaster payments for 2017 and 2018 losses. 

The legislation also would authorize $700 million in water reuse and recycling projects and another $500 million to preserve water levels in drought-stricken lakes Mead and Powell on the Colorado River. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton told lawmakers in June that the Colorado River Basin states had to determine how to use 2 to 4 million acre-feet less water — or Reclamation would make the decision for them.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Friday that the legislation is “aimed at helping those living in western states meet the challenges of fire and drought exacerbated by the climate crisis will be in that legislation. It would save lives, property, farms, and businesses from damage and destruction from fire and extreme drought.”

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, July 25

9 a.m. — USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.

11 a.m. — House Agriculture Committee farm bill listening session, Northfield, Minn.

4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, July 26

Wednesday, July 27

“Building Bridges for Cooperation in Agrifood System Transformation” will take place at the headquarters of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in San Jose, Costa Rica, from 27 to 29 July. This is the first Summit of Africa and the Americas, which will seek to enhance cooperation between the two continents on Agrifood Systems amid global threats to food security.

9:30 a.m. — House Natural Resources Committee meeting to consider the Environmental Justice for All Act, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. — House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, “Challenges Facing Global Food Security,” 2172 Rayburn.

10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on carbon capture utilization technology, 253 Russell.

10:15 a.m. — House Education and Labor Committee hearing to consider the Health Meals, Healthy Kids Act.

Thursday,  July 28

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

10 a.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on USDA’s hemp production program, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. — House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, "Preventing Polluters from Getting Government Contracts: Bureau of Land Management’s Corporate Exclusions Lists," 1334 Longworth.

10:15 a.m. — Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Doug McKalip to be chief agricultural negotiator with the U.S. Trade Representative, 215 Dirksen.

Friday, July 29

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