The Senate Agriculture Committee holds a long-awaited hearing this week on two more USDA nominees, including the department’s undersecretary for trade, as Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack struggles to fill out his team 21 months into the administration.
Congressional leaders, meanwhile, are still trying to agree on a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. At issue is what legislative provisions to include, if any, with the stopgap spending bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is determined to attach a permitting reform plan he promised to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., but the provisions face some resistance from both parties. Child nutrition advocates are holding out hope that the CR will include provisions to provide free school meals to all children, regardless of their family income.
“The administrative burden associated with delivering restricted school meals would be better spent providing meals for all children and ensuring that every child has the fuel they need to succeed in school,” some 48 House Democrats said in a letter to congressional leaders last week.
Republicans are insisting on keeping the CR free of extraneous issues.
The USDA nominees included in Thursday’s hearing are Oregon Agriculture Director Alexis Taylor, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be undersecretary for trade, and Jose Emilio Esteban, a long-time veteran of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service nominated to be undersecretary for food safety.
The hearing also will include Vincent Garfield Logan’s nomination to be a board member for the Farm Credit Administration, the oversight agency for the Farm Credit System.
A broad array of farm groups led by the National Association of Wheat Growers and companies led by CHS Inc. sent letters to the committee endorsing Taylor’s nomination.
The farm group letter says Taylor "is a widely recognized leader on agriculture policy and has the domestic and international experience to shepherd U.S. agriculture through growing global changes of protecting food security, tackling inflation, and expanding markets for U.S. agricultural products.”
Biden’s selection of Esteban was announced in November 2021. He has served as chief scientist for FSIS since 2018 and has been with the agency since 2001. Esteban has worked in various laboratory roles at FSIS.
USDA is also without an undersecretary to oversee its mission area with the largest budget: Food, nutrition and consumer services. Stacy Dean, who has been serving as deputy undersecretary for the mission area, was nominated as undersecretary in May. But Republicans have delayed consideration of her over their concerns with the administration’s update of the Thrifty Food Plan, a set of estimates of eating costs that determine benefit levels under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The Government Accountability Office found that USDA improperly implemented the TFP update without first filing a required report to Congress. The 2018 farm bill authorized USDA to do the update.
Also this week, the House Agriculture Committee will continue its review of farm bill issues with a subcommittee hearing Tuesday on conservation programs. There will be four witnesses representing multiple commodity groups.
The hearing comes as USDA is preparing to start spending nearly $20 billion in conservation program funding provided through the newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act to promote the adoption of climate-related farming practices.
The witnesses will include Iowa cattle producer Shayne Wiese, a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Also Tuesday, a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a bill sponsored by full committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., that would require the Forest Service, part of USDA, and the Interior Department to manage federal lands and waters in line with the administration's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
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Meanwhile, USDA’s Equity Commission will hold its third public meeting, starting Wednesday. The meeting will include members of the commission’s newly constituted Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittee as well as the Agriculture Subcommittee.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack formed the 15-member commission to investigate the department’s treatment of minorities and to make recommendations for changes in policies and practices. Deputy Ag Secretary Jewel Bronaugh and former United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez are co-chairing the commission.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Sept. 19
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Sept. 20
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on farm bill conservation programs, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the Public Lands and Waters Climate Leadership Act, 1324 Longworth.
2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “Assessing Cryptocurrency as a Tool for Financial Inclusion,” 1300 Longworth.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Banking Committee hearing on USDA’s Rural Housing Service, 538 Dirksen.
3 p.m. - Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on anti-trust issues, 226 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Sept. 21
USDA Equity Commission meeting, through Thursday.
10 a.m. - House Rules Committee hearing, “Right to Repair: Legislative and Budgetary Solutions to Unfair Restrictions on Repair, Capitol H-313.
Thursday, Sept. 22
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on pending USDA nominations, 215 Dirksen.
Friday, Sept. 23
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