A top Senate Republican is expressing confidence this Congress will ultimately pass a farm bill, citing its importance to GOP lawmakers who are up for re-election in 2024. 

“I do think that there are enough rural state Republicans for whom the farm bill matters, and that's certainly true in the Senate,” Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters on Wednesday.

On timing: Thune says the debt ceiling fight likely must be resolved – likely in mid-summer – before a farm bill can move.

Sara Wyant Phil Brasher and Senator Thune.jpgThune with Agri-Pulse President Sara Wyant and Executive Editor Philip Brasher

Thune expects Republicans to try to redirect some of the funding in the Inflation Reduction Act toward increasing commodity program reference prices and addressing other concerns. The IRA includes $18.5 billion in conservation funding, which Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said is off-limits – as well as $5 billion in funding for forestry and $14 billion for rural energy and biofuels.

SNAP cuts: Thune also says there is a lot of GOP interest in cutting spending on SNAP through tightening work requirements or other means. His South Dakota colleague, Dusty Johnson, is spearheading a proposal to expand work requirements to adults as old as 65 – the current limit is 49 – as well as parents with children above the age of 6.

Thune called the proposal “reasonable and practical” and said SNAP work requirements would be part of the debt limit negotiations between congressional Republicans and the White House.
Thune conceded that the proposal would face stiff opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Thune with Agri-Pulse President Sara Wyant and Executive Editor Philip Brasher. 

USTR faces grilling on Biden trade agenda

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before the Senate Finance Committee today before she heads for a second performance Friday before the House Ways and Means Committee. She is likely to face questions on a broad array of issues, but agriculture is certain to get a spotlight.

The last time Tai was subjected to back-to-back hearings from the committees was in March 2022. Lawmakers spent much of the two days grilling her on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and demanding that the administration seek trade deals that include tariff-cutting market access provisions.

Dalton Henry, vice president of policy for the U.S. Wheat Associates, tells Agri-Pulse that ag interests hope Tai will say the administration has made substantial progress on IPEF and other issues. “I also think folks are anxious for better answers on how we secure new market access. Especially now that (USTR Chief Agricultural Negotiator Doug) McKalip is in place. It feels like the agriculture team should really be running on all cylinders,” Henry said.

Take note: The Office of the USTR earlier this month took the first procedural step that could lead to a dispute resolution panel over Mexico’s ban of genetically modified white corn and lawmakers are likely to ask for a progress report.

Collin Watters, director of exports and logistics for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Corn Growers Association, wants Tai to provide more clarity on the process and lay out her expectations. 

Hill staffers hear from former FDA officials
Former FDA officials and industry leaders were on Capitol Hill Wednesday to brief congressional staff on the details of FDA’s proposed restructuring of its Human Foods Program, including the duties of a newly created deputy commissioner role.
The speakers included Stephen Ostroff, former FDA deputy commissioner of food policy; Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports; and former FDA official Roberta Wagner, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs for Consumer Brands Association. 

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FDA Commissioner Robert Califf recently said in a letter to Wagner that groups including Consumer Brands are attempting to deter qualified candidates from seeking to fill the vacant deputy commissioner for foods role.
Wagner responded by laying out alternatives to Califf’s plan that the coalition of groups believes would better encompass the recommendations in the Reagan-Udall Foundation report.
Looking ahead: Califf will testify before the Senate and House Appropriations committees in the upcoming weeks.
Former FDA official Frank Yiannas will testify before the House Oversight Committee next Tuesday on the infant formula crisis. 
Senators look to block some foreign land acquisitions
A bipartisan group of senators is proposing to bar sales of U.S. ag land to any individuals or entities tied to the governments of China, Iran, North Korea or Russia. “The surge of foreign-owned agricultural land in the U.S. demonstrates the need to keep our top foreign adversaries out of our agricultural supply chains,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.

He’s cosponsoring the bill with fellow Senate Ag Committee member Mike Braun, R-Ind., as well as Sens. John Tester, D-Mont., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

By the way: In an interview for this week’s Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit, the Senate Ag Committee’s top Republican, John Boozman, said there needs to be a hearing on the land issue to figure out how much of a problem it is. He said he’s concerned more broadly about land acquisitions by hedge funds.  

He said it. “We have the ability to educate our people. We have the ability to educate folks who want to come back and work in those communities where it may be tough to get an inspector,” - Trenton Kissee, the agriculture and natural resources director for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, talking to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about how tribal colleges and universities could fill a need for additional meat inspectors.
The committee plans to provide recommendations for the next farm bill to the Senate Ag Committee. Indian Affairs Chairman Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said the panel needed concrete proposals by March 31.
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