Lawmakers are back in session this week as leaders look to finish out committee rosters and clear the way for the House and Senate to start hearings on a range of oversight matters and legislative issues, including the farm bill.

Republicans, who now control the House, announced their committee membership last week, but GOP and Democratic leadership had yet to negotiate a final agreement on committee ratios.

Democrats are expected to start naming their committee rosters this week following a meeting of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee may not be named until next week, according to a congressional source.

Republicans last week named 12 new members of the Ag Committee to join Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson and 14 other returning members.

Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee could learn about its membership for the new Congress this week. The committee was split 11-11 in the last Congress, reflecting the 50-50 Senate. This time, Democrats will have a one-seat cushion, although Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has joined the ranks of the chamber’s independents who caucus with Democrats.

Only one member of the Senate committee last year didn’t return this year, the now-retired Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Both the House and Senate Ag committees are expected to start farm bill hearings in February, although those discussions are likely to be overshadowed by the political jockeying over raising the government’s $31.4 trillion debt limit, an issue Republicans aim to use to get the White House and Senate Democrats to agree to spending cuts.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen informed Congress on Thursday that the debt limit had been reached and that her department had started implementing the first of several “extraordinary measures” it can take to avert a default. She said in a Jan. 13 letter that it was “unlikely that cash and extraordinary measures will be exhausted before early June.”

 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ruled out any possibility of a default.

“Periodically, the debt ceiling has to be lifted, and it's always a rather contentious effort,” he told reporters on Thursday. “In the end, I think the important thing to remember is that America must never default on its debt, and never has, and never will.”

But House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, reiterated that Republicans will demand some unspecified controls on spending in return for an increase in the debt ceiling.

“Giving in to Democrats’ demand for a debt ceiling increase without implementing fiscal guardrails is neither reasonable nor responsible,” he said in a statement. “Democrats and Republicans must seize this opportunity to rein-in our unsustainable spending and reorient our nation’s financial trajectory before it’s too late.” 

Depending on the outcome of any spending deal, the budget could ultimately have an impact on funding for the next farm bill as well on annual appropriations bills for USDA, EPA and other departments and agencies.

Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, has asked federal agency heads to detail how their programs could be affected by cutting funding to fiscal 2022 levels. Republicans are reportedly considering trying to cap FY24 appropriations at FY22 levels; such caps would not affect mandatory spending levels, those set by laws such as the farm bill.

“My analysis indicates that taking discretionary spending back to the fiscal year 2022 level could roll back bipartisan efforts recently enacted to lower the cost of living for hard working families; create better-paying jobs; support federal, state, and local law enforcement; strengthen our national security; and protect our environment,” DeLauro wrote.

The House will continue debating some GOP bills this week while committees wait to be organized. The scheduled measures include a bill sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to reform the civil service system by replacing degree-based hiring with a focus on skills and competency.

Another bill set for a vote, sponsored by Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., would require publication of agreements to settle violations of federal civil or criminal law.

Legislation sponsored by House Energy and Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would require the Biden administration to develop a plan for increasing oil and gas production on federal lands before drawing down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The bill will be considered under a modified open rule, which would allow for a wide array of amendments.

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

Monday, Jan. 23

International Dairy Foods Association’s annual Dairy Forum, through Wednesday, Orlando.

Clean Fuels Alliance America annual conference, through Thursday, Tampa.

Tuesday, Dec. 24

Wednesday, Dec. 25

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

Thursday, Dec. 26

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

Friday, Dec. 27

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