House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., is moving ahead with votes on his farm bill this week despite a funding gap for the sweeteners to commodity programs and crop insurance. And it doesn’t appear the Congressional Budget Office is going to give him the scoring change he needs to cover the $50 billion-plus price tag for those modifications to the commodity and crop insurance titles. 

According to excerpts of an email from CBO this weekend reviewed by Agri-Pulse, CBO is insisting Thompson can count on only $8 billion in savings from suspending USDA’s Section 5 spending authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation. Thompson says the savings should be about $53 billion.

“Given the suggestion that CBO is confused about the savings for this provision, we thought it important to provide information on that subject as soon as possible,” the email says.

The email goes on to warn “that it is possible to read the (CCC) provision as meaningless, which would result in savings of $0.” But the email reiterates that CBO believes that the provision could save $8 billion over 10 years.

GOP response: “CBO is incorrect on the CCC and we continue to work with the Budget Committee to address the situation,” the majority staff said in a response to Agri-Pulse.

By the way: Thompson, with help from some farm groups, has been working to persuade some Democrats to support the bill in committee. So far none have endorsed it. “I cannot identify a single Democrat that's going to vote for this bill with that Thrifty Food Plan stuff in there,” former Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., tells Agri-Pulse’s Noah Wicks, referring to the bill’s restrictions on future updates of the TFP, the model of food costs that’s used to set SNAP benefits.

For more on the farm bill, read Washington Week Ahead

Also on Capitol Hill: Senate, House committees examine nutrition

The farm bill markup is the biggest news this week, but Congress has also teed up a couple of hearings on nutrition issues before members head home at the end of the week. They’ll return in June after a week off for Memorial Day.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, Committee will hear from four witnesses about advances in the use of food as medicine. The Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. hearing will feature Jean Terranova, senior director of policy and research at Community Servings in Boston, and Dariush Mozaffarian, director of the Food is Medicine Institute at Tufts University, also in Boston.

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Other witnesses include Erin Martin, a gerontologist who founded and now directs FreshRx in

Tulsa, and James Carter Williams, CEO and Managing Principal of the iSelect Fund in the St. Louis.

Then on Wednesday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will take on the thorny issue  of nutrition restrictions for SNAP benefits. Witnesses include Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute, who has advocated for pilot programs to test restrictions on sugary beverages in SNAP.

Another witness is endocrinologist Robert Lustig, who long has railed against processed foods. His website says “he believes the food business, by pushing processed food loaded with sugar, has hacked our bodies and minds to pursue pleasure instead of happiness; fostering today’s epidemics of addiction and depression.”

Baldwin cautions railroads against furloughs 

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is urging the nation’s largest railroads not to furlough workers this year, warning that “a shrinking workforce will only compound service issues in the future." Baldwin is a member of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees railroad issues. 

In letters to Union Pacific RailroadBurlington Northern Santa Fe CorporationNorfolk SouthernCSX TransportationCanadian Pacific Kansas City, and Canadian National Railway Baldwin says she’s concerned “recent actions taken by a few Class I railroads could lead to troubling trends in the industry, including future disruptions.” She points to remarks made earlier this year by now-retired Surface Transportation Board chairman Marty Oberman.

In a speech, Oberman said Union Pacific embarked on a “furlough odyssey,” cutting 771 operating personnel between August 2023 and January 2024, and that BNSF had furloughed workers as well.

"In recent years, service levels from Class I railroads experienced severe disruptions and certain metrics, particularly staffing, have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels,” Baldwin writes. "Unfortunately, recent trends suggest much of the industry is reversing any progress that was made, leaving the system brittle and vulnerable to future service problems and safety incidents moving forward."

Take note: In March, Union Pacific CEO Jim Vena said in response to concerns about furloughs expressed by the Federal Railroad Administration that "fluctuations in workforce needs are a natural component of operating the railroad – they are normal, cyclical and vary from year-to-year based on business needs, capital projects and weather."

Matheson reaches back to ‘Field of Dreams’ in criticizing power plant rule

The head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is using the famous Field of Dreams line to describe the Biden administration’s new power plant regulations, which seek to reduce carbon emissions by 90%.

“It's the old cliché from ‘Field of Dreams’: If you build it, they will come,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson tells Jeff Nalley in an interview for Agri-Pulse’s Open Mic. “It's ‘If we mandate it, the technology will evolve.’ I don't think that's a risk we want to take with our power grid.”

NRECA is seeking a stay of the rule in federal appeals court, arguing in part that carbon capture and sequestration technology is, as yet, unproven.  

“You can't propose regulations on technologies that you hope are going to be available in a few years,” he says. “In fact, legally, you can't say it's a proven technology before you require it. And that's the path I think that the administration has followed.”

Former ag secretary warns against future tariffs

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has a warning for future administrations: Tariffs have consequences.

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Johanns calls Joe Biden's and Donald Trump’s trade policies “pretty similar,” adding that “they don’t hesitate to put tariffs on whoever for whatever.” But, he says, the U.S. is working with “very sophisticated” countries that may target industries like agriculture in response. Johanns served under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. 

"You do that, there will be retaliation,” Johanns says of placing future tariffs. "It’s just the way it works. And you can be angry about that, you can cuss it and discuss it, do whatever you want, but the reality is, trade is kind of a golden rule: Do unto others what you want them to do to you."

Philip Brasher and Noah Wicks contributed to this report.