Congress kicks off its lame duck session this week with control of the House for the next two years still undecided, and GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy still trying to shore up votes to be speaker, if Republicans take over the chamber.

As of Sunday morning, Republicans had won 211 of the 218 seats needed for a House majority, while Democrats had won 203. Democrats were assured of retaining control of the Senate when on Saturday, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., was declared the winner of her reelection race

Much of this week will be devoted to new member orientation and GOP leadership elections — if those aren’t postponed. But lawmakers face two big items on their to-do list for the lame duck — passage of an omnibus spending bill to fund the government for fiscal 2023 and a 2023 defense authorization measure.

Republicans and Democrats have yet to even announce an agreement on spending levels for FY23. A continuing resolution is keeping the government funded at FY22 levels until Dec. 16.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s chairman, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and top Republican, Richard Shelby of Alabama, are both retiring and are likely eager to finalize the legislation.

Meanwhile, farm groups want to see the Senate confirm a pair of trade-related nominees: Doug McKalip, President Joe Biden’s pick to be chief agricultural trade negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative, and Alexis Taylor, nominated to be undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural services at the Agriculture Department.

“There hasn't been as active of a trade agenda as I think many in the ag community would like to see, and I think it starts with getting our two very talented and capable trade nominees in place and going from there.” said agribusiness lobbyist Randy Russell.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., put a hold on McKalip's nomination as leverage to get USTR to address his concerns about trade policy.

Several bills of ag interest remain in limbo heading into the lame duck, including the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would expand the H-2 visa program; the Senate-passed Growing Climate Solutions Act, which is aimed at accelerating the development of carbon markets; and a pair of bills that would address marketing practices in the meat industry.

Prospects for the bills remain slim at best, given the opposition they still face.  

Although an omnibus spending bill frequently serves as a vehicle for passing some policy-related measures, former House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., doesn’t give those agricultural bills much of a chance of making the cut in this lame duck.

He said the omnibus itself will be hard enough for lawmakers to agree on.

“They’re not going to be looking to put stuff into that bill,” Peterson said. “It’s going to make it more controversial.”

Republicans remain the favorites to win control of the House as the ballot continues in California and other states, but McCarthy is already setting the stage for taking control as speaker, and so far he has resisted demands from some hard-line conservatives to postpone GOP leadership votes this week.

McCarthy announced the formation of three transition teams last week, including one to plan the implementation of GOP policy priorities and another to set the stage for investigating the Biden administration.

“These transition teams will ensure we hit the ground running on issues that Democrats have ignored or made worse for the American people under one-party rule, all while shutting out our fellow citizens from the People’s House,” McCarthy said in announcing the team leaders.

Some GOP hard-liners and backers of former President Donald Trump have been trying to derail McCarthy’s move to the speakership, or to at least extract concessions from him.  

“We cannot be stagnant. We need more people to want to align with Republicans. I don't think that's going to happen with Kevin McCarthy. I don't think it's going to happen with (Senate GOP Leader) Mitch McConnell,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

Appearing in a video with Gaetz, former Trump budget director Russ Vought said congressional Republicans need to emulate the former president, who “ate conflict and risk for breakfast.” Vought founded and runs the Center for Renewing America, a group focused on such issues as critical race theory and immigration.

However, Trump himself told reporters Saturday that he would support McCarthy's bid for speaker and was resigned to Mitch McConnell staying on as GOP leader in the Senate.

At least six conservative senators called for delaying this week’s Senate GOP leadership election. One of those senators, Florida’s Marco Rubio, said in a tweet that Republicans “need to make sure that those who want to lead us are genuinely committed to fighting for the priorities & values of the working Americans (of every background) who gave us big wins in states like #Florida.”  

Sen. Cynthia Loomis, R-Wyo., tweeted in response to Rubio, “Second.” 

But Fox News reported Saturday that the third-ranking member of the Senate GOP leadership, John Barrasso of Wyoming, notified colleagues that the election would go forward as planned.

While Congress is unlikely to pass many significant bills in the lame-duck session other than omnibus spending and defense authorization measures, Russell, who represents the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, expresses optimism that the Growing Climate Solutions Act could still clear Congress.

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The bill, which would authorize USDA to certify agricultural advisers, passed the Senate easily in 2021 but has gone nowhere in the House. The top Republican on the House Ag Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania, has insisted on major changes to the measure, which also faces opposition from some progressive Democrats.

The bill’s lead House sponsors, Democrat Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Republican Don Bacon of Nebraska, both won close reelection races, and Russell predicted they would “push pretty hard” to get it passed during the lame duck.  

Also this week, the Senate Agriculture Committee is holding its first farm bill hearing other than a pair of listening sessions earlier this year in Michigan and Arkansas. Tuesday's hearing will focus on rural development and energy programs.

USDA's undersecretary for rural development programs, Xochitl Torres Small, will be the leadoff witness.

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

Monday, Nov. 14

2 p.m. — House Rules Committee considers draft report, “Ending Hunger in America: Challenges, Opportunities and the Political Will to Succeed,” Capitol H-313.

Tuesday, Nov. 15

10 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies forum, “Agriculture in Wartime: Threats and Opportunities for Ukraine with Farmer Kees Huizinga, Agricultural Economist Antonina Broyaka, and USAID DAA Mark Simakovsky.”

10 a.m. — Senate Agriculture Committee farm bill hearing on rural development programs, 328A Russell.

Wednesday, Nov. 16

National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual convention, through Friday Kansas City

Sustainable Agriculture Summit, through Thursday, Glendale, Arizona

Thursday, Nov. 17

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

Friday, Nov. 18

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