President Joe Biden tries to sell his economic agenda to the country in his annual State of the Union address this week, while the Senate Agriculture Committee pivots its farm bill preparations to focus on commodity programs and crop insurance.

Also in Congress this week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the Biden administration’s new “waters of the U.S.” rule, which redefines the wetlands and streams that fall under federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act

The SOTU address Tuesday night comes on the heels of an eye-popping jobs report Friday – the economy added 517,000 jobs in January – and evidence that inflation is moderating

Responding to the job report, Biden noted that 12 million jobs had been created since he took office two years ago as the nation was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. “That's the strongest two years of job growth in history by a long shot,” he said in a line that’s likely to be stressed in Tuesday’s address. 

The audience in the House chamber for his speech will include Paul Bruchez, a fifth generation rancher from Kremmling, Colorado, and member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. He will be in the gallery as a guest of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. The attendance of Bruchez is intended to draw attention to the water crisis in the Colorado River Basin.

“Agriculture must be part of the solution to the challenges in the Colorado River Basin, and we’re proactively developing ways to secure our natural resources and our way of life,” said Bruchez, who is leading other landowners in a local restoration of the river. 

The CEO of a Minnesota-based food bank, Allison O’Toole, will be a guest of Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. Second Harvest Heartland has worked with restaurants to provide freshly cooked meals to people who need them, using ingredients sourced by the food bank.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will give the Republican response to Biden. 

House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, responded to the January job numbers by noting that there were still fewer people working than now than before the pandemic.

"We should end Democrat’s welfare-without-work policies that have sidelined labor, rein-in this unbridled spending, and reduce the tax and regulatory burden that are forcing our economy into a recession," Arrington said. His comment could signal an intent to try to tighten work requirements in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by far the largest part of the farm bill. 

Thursday’s Senate Ag hearing is the third in a series focusing on various issues of the farm bill. Robert Bonnie, USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, will appear at the hearing along with Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and Risk Management Agency Administrator Marica Bunger. 

GOP highlights WOTUS rule with hearing, repeal effort

Wednesday’s House hearing on Biden’s WOTUS rule comes as Republicans on both sides of the Hill are preparing to force Democrats to vote on a Congressional Review Act resolution that would repeal the rule. 

The resolution has no chance of becoming law since Biden would veto the measure if it gets to his desk. But the votes would give Republicans to put a focus on the rule, whose fate is almost certain to ultimately be decided by the courts. The Supreme Court has a ruling pending on a related Clean Air Act case, and the American Farm Bureau Federation is among a series of groups that filed suit last month to block implementation of the new Biden rule

Forty-eight senators and 152 House members signed on to separate resolutions of disapproval.

“Congress has the authority and responsibility to review onerous rules like this one handed down from the executive branch, and I hope our colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join in this effort to preserve regulatory clarity and prevent overzealous, unnecessary, and broadly defined federal power,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo. 

Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins is among the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing. 

Alert to farmers: Monday is Ag Census deadline

Monday is officially the last day for farmers to submit their responses for the 2022 Census of Agriculture. USDA spokeswoman Teresa White described the response to the census so far as “strong," and she said that responses after Monday will still be counted. 

“Completed questionnaires keep rolling in every day by mail as well as online through our new respondent portal,” she said in a statement to Agri-Pulse.

The census is conducted every five years to provide detailed data on the state of U.S. agriculture. 

Dietary guidelines launch work on 2025 version

The scientific advisers for the 2025-2030 edition of the federal dietary guidelines will hold their first meeting Thursday and Friday to begin review of questions proposed by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The 20 members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five additional times. 

At the meeting, they are expected to discuss how to go about addressing those questions, which include subjects such as obesity, food patterns, and timing of eating occasions. The meeting also will feature presentations on how the staff supporting the committee’s work will review the scientific evidence.

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The guidelines are woven into standards for federal nutrition programs and also are followed by health care providers. 

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

Monday, Feb. 6

Deadline for farmers to respond to  the 2022 Census of Agriculture.

Tuesday, Feb. 7

10:15 a.m. – House Natural Resources Committee meeting to consider the committee authorization and oversight plan, 1324 Longworth.

11 a.m. – USDA releases Farm Income Forecast

Wednesday, Feb. 8

Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau annual meeting, through Friday, Bonita Springs, Fla.

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives annual meeting, through Friday, Orlando.

10 a.m. – House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the Biden administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule.

Noon – USDA releases monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Crop Production report

Thursday, Feb. 9

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee virtual meeting, through Friday.

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

10 a.m. – Senate Agriculture Committee farm bill hearing on commodity, crop insurance and credit programs, 328A Russell.

10:30 a.m. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-China policy, 419 Dirksen.

Friday, Feb. 10

National Cotton Council annual meeting, through Sunday, Dallas.

Steve Davies contributed to this report. 

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