Lawmakers resume their lame duck session this week facing a looming deadline to avert a government shutdown, but they will also take some time to put a spotlight on a proposed merger of supermarket giants Kroger and Albertsons.
Congress has until Dec. 16 to agree on a fiscal 2023 funding bill or else lawmakers will have to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government funded. The CR that has been funding agencies at FY22 levels since the fiscal year began Oct. 1 expires that day.
According to reports, negotiations between Democrats and Republicans were at a stalemate heading into the Thanksgiving weekend. Roll Call reported that the Democratic chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, had started writing an omnibus funding bill on their own.
The GOP takeover of the House has given Republicans additional leverage in the negotiations, since DeLauro will lose the Appropriations chair in January.
The proposed combination of Kroger and Albertsons will be the focus of a hearing Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. Subcommittee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar and Democratic colleagues have appealed to the Federal Trade Commission to review the merger, saying it raised “considerable antitrust concerns.”
In 2015, the commission required Albertsons and Safeway to sell 168 stores as a condition of a merger between those companies.
Earlier this month, a state court judge in Washington temporarily blocked a $4 billion payout by Albertsons to its shareholders ahead of the merger with Kroger. A second lawsuit challenging the dividend payment was filed in Washington, D.C., by the District of Columbia, California and Illinois. That complaint said the dividend “risks seriously hindering Albertsons’ ability to compete with Kroger and other supermarkets in these and other states during the merger review and interfering with the merger review process.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency trading platform founded by San Bankman-Fried, a top contributor to congressional Democrats.
The chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Rostin Behnam, will be the lone witness at the hearing titled, “Why Congress Needs to Act: Lessons Learned from the FTX Collapse.” FTX filed for bankruptcy in October amid allegations that it had mishandled client funds.
Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking Republican John Boozman of Arkansas are sponsoring legislation that would give the CFTC more authority to regulate digital assets.
Bankman-Fried testified before the committee early this year and later before the House Ag Committee.
CME Group CEO Terrence Duffy warned House Ag members in May there could be “catastrophic” consequences for futures markets if the CFTC approved a FTX plan to allow customers to buy leveraged crypto derivatives at any time. Duffy said the proposal would exempt FTX from “well-established” U.S. clearing rules and could “undermine confidence” in the U.S. regulatory regime.
Also in Congress this week, the House will vote on a resolution “condemning the use of hunger as a weapon of war and recognizing the effect of conflict on global food security and famine.” The measure introduced by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-N.Y., is intended in part to highlight Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
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“Putin has repeatedly weaponized food during this war, blockading Odessa and recently striking the port — even after a landmark grain deal was struck just the day before. But we also have to recognize that we can’t only sound the alarm and mobilize aid and attention when and where humanitarian crises affect people who look like us,” Jacobs said during the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s consideration of the resolution.
“Around the world, millions are hungry and suffering as a direct result of Putin’s relentless crusade for power.”
Elsewhere this week, USDA will release its latest farm income forecast as well as its quarterly update on U.S. agricultural trade.
In September, the department estimated that net cash farm income would reach its highest level in a decade this year due to the strong markets for crops and animal products. Net cash farm income is now forecast at $168.5 billion in 2022, an increase of $22.1 billion — or 15.1% over 2021 — and the highest level since 2012 when adjusted for inflation.
Net farm income, a broader measure of profits, was forecast at $147.7 billion in calendar year 2022, an increase of $7.3 billion, or 5.2%, over last year.
Net cash farm income is based on cash receipts from farming, plus government payments and other farm-related income, minus cash expenses. Net farm income also factors in depreciation and changes in inventory values.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Nov. 28
4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Nov. 29
3 p.m. – USDA releases Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade.
3 p.m. – Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Kroger-Albertsons merger, 226 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Thursday, Dec. 1
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. – Senate Agriculture Committee hearing with CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam on the FTX collapse, G50 Dirksen.
11 a.m. – USDA releases updated Farm Income Forecast.
Friday, Dec. 2
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