Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack faces the Senate Agriculture Committee this week amid uncertainty about the path for a new farm bill and ongoing jousting between the Biden administration and Republicans over the economy and federal spending. 

Vilsack’s emphasis on addressing climate and equity issues and his use of USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority could be among the issues that will surface at Thursday’s hearing. 

In speech after speech, Vilsack has stressed that farmers need new income streams and that carbon sequestration is one of the means to do that along with new markets for local and smaller scale producers.

Last Friday, Vilsack signed the first two of 141 contracts for CCC-funded projects that will test ways of developing markets for climate-smart commodities. Signing the contracts, Vilsack said U.S. agriculture “is on the cusp of being the first major industry of our overall economy to move aggressively towards a net zero future,”

Although his GOP predecessor, Sonny Perdue, used the CCC authority even more aggressively than Vilsack has, some Republicans say Vilsack stretched the meaning of the statutory language to fund his $3 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative. 

The House is not in session this week, but the House Ag Committee will hold a farm bill listening session in Waco, Texas. 

Committee members Austin Scott, R-Ga.; John Rose, R-Tenn; Kat Cammack, R-Fla.; Ronny Jackson, R-Texas; Tracey Mann, R-Kan.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.; and Jasmine Crockett, R-Texas, are expected to join Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., at the event. GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, who represents the Waco area, also will attend. 

Also this week, the latest inflation numbers will be released on Tuesday, providing the latest measure of the Biden administration’s effort to get the economy on a sustainable track. 

Biden said Friday said the economy is on a strong course, citing the March employment report, which showed the economy added 311,000 jobs last month. 

“Inflation has been down for many weeks in a row now,” Biden told reporters. He acknowledged there there should be some “blips” in the Consumer Price Index over coming months, but he said, “I feel confident that we’re headed in the right direction.”  

The Federal Reserve has repeatedly raised interest rates in an effort to push inflation back to a rate of 2% a year. 

The CPI rose 0.5% in January and is up 6.4% year over year. Grocery prices were up another 0.4% in January and are up 11.3% from a year earlier. Prices for eggs and cereal and bakery products have continued to be significant drivers of food inflation.

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Still uncertain is when the House and Senate Agriculture committees will start work on a new farm bill. The House Ag Committee formally appealed last week to the Budget Committee for funding needed to augment the bill’s commodity title, but it’s not clear when or if GOP leaders will try to move a budget resolution in the House. 

Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, last week suggested the budget resolution would be ready by May, but a committee spokesperson later told CNN Arrington “misspoke.”

Meanwhile, members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus on Friday announced a sweeping set of budget demands they want to see met before agreeing to increase the federal debt ceiling. The demands include capping annual spending increases to 1% a year, starting at fiscal 2022 levels.

Republicans control the House by such a narrow, 222-213, margin, that GOP factions such as the Freedom Caucus members have leverage to shape the budget resolution and any deal with the White House. 

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

Monday, March 13

Tuesday, March 14

8:30 a.m. – Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the monthly Consumer Price Index.  

Wednesday, Feb. 15

10:15 a.m. – Senate Budget Committee hearing with Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, 608 Dirksen.

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

3 p.m. - House Agriculture Committee farm bill listening session, Waco, Texas. 

Thursday, Feb. 16

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

9:30 a.m. – Senate Agriculture Committee hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 328-A Russell.

10 a.m. – Senate Finance Committee hearing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, 215 Dirksen.

Friday, March 17

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