The Senate is expected this week to approve a new deputy secretary for USDA as lawmakers return from their July 4 break facing a backlog of fiscal 2024 spending bills heading into the August recess. 

The first item on the Senate’s agenda Monday evening is a procedural vote to move to the nomination of Xochitl Torres Small to take the No. 2 spot at USDA. 

Torres-Small, a former New Mexico congresswoman who is currently serving as the undersecretary for rural development, has faced no public opposition, although Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska,, has maintained a hold on her nomination, according to a Senate Republican source. Sullivan’s staff didn’t respond to a request for comment this weekend. 

She would replace Jewel Bronaugh, who left the department earlier this year. 

During her confirmation hearing in May, Torres Small was pressed to streamline the delivery of USDA programs. The deputy secretary has typically served as USDA’s chief operating officer. 

The GOP-held House and Democratic-controlled Senate are only scheduled to be in for three weeks ahead of the August recess, and several FY24 appropriations bills are ready for floor action in both chambers, including the Agriculture bills that would fund USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. 

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the Agriculture bill highlight the sharp conflict facing lawmakers heading toward Sept. 30, when fiscal 2023 ends. 

The $26 billion Senate bill is funded in line with the spending caps in this spring's debt ceiling agreement and without $8 billion in funding rescissions that House Republicans used to fund their version. Excluding those rescissions, which have little chance of passing the Senate, the two chambers are $9 billion apart on the bill. 

In a letter to fellow senators on Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote: "One of our most fundamental tasks will be to deliver on the deal that President Biden and Congress agreed to in June to fund our government and protect key investments in infrastructure, U.S. competitiveness, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, our veterans and more. In the Senate, we are working diligently through regular order on a bipartisan basis to advance appropriations bills."

With the House not in session until Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a field hearing in Minnesota Monday on agricultural trade issues, and a Democratic farm bill task force will hold a meeting in Connecticut hosted by House Ag Committee member Jahana Hayes, D-Conn.

The Democratic task force is chaired by Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson and was formed by Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. Thompson told Agri-Pulse the group will be studying a range of issues, including nutrition assistance programs and the proper treatment of small and large-scale farming operations. 

The Ways and Means hearing will take place on the Stearns County farm of Angus cattle producer Don Schiefelbein in Minnesota’s 7th District, represented by Ways and Means Republican Michelle Fischbach.

“U.S. trade policy must be focused on helping American farmers, workers, and small businesses stay competitive and thrive. That means protecting them from unfair trade practices, enforcing our trade agreements, and helping American farmers compete,” said Committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo.

Schiefelbein, a former president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, will be among five witnesses; others include leaders of the Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union.   

Schiefelbein told Agri-Pulse in an email that he wants to impress on lawmakers “the importance of allowing ranchers and farmers to do what they do best… efficiently producing the safest, highest quality beef in the world.  The government should push back on individuals and countries who attempt to diminish our ability to provide beef per consumer demand.”

MFU President Gary Wertish said he will tell the lawmakers that it's important to have "fair and stable trade agreements along with strong domestic markets to ensure fairness to farmers ... and not have them subjected to changing policies and personalities."

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Also this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi will headline a Universal Food Forum, hosted by Michigan State University at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. 

The forum, which is sponsored in part by Agri-Pulse, will feature panels on a wide range of issues, including food security, global regulations and trade, and science communication.

“The grand challenges of the coming decades — food security, climate change and fair access to resources, to name just a few — can only be met through true collaborations across academia, government, industry, media, NGOs and the development community,” said Kelly Millenbah, dean of Michigan State’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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

Monday, July 10

4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, July 11

Wednesday, July 12

All day – University Food Forum, hosted by Michigan State University, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

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

10 a.m. – House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing, “Enhancing Fire Weather Prediction and Coordination,” 2318 Rayburn.

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

2:30 p.m. – Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on various public lands bills, 366 Dirksen. 

Thursday, July 13

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

11 a.m. – Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider the fiscal 2024 Legislative Branch, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Financial Services bills, 106 Dirksen.

Friday, July 14

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