Lawmakers are back in Washington this week as the legislative calendar winds down ahead of this summer’s political conventions and the fall campaigns. 

The House is going to use the time between now and the Republican convention in mid-July to move its fiscal 2025 spending bills. The legislation will serve as a way for the Republican majority to assert its priorities when it comes to government funding, and that means shifting more money into defense programs while cutting non-defense spending.

The House Rules Committee meets today to prepare for floor debate the first of those FY25 bills, the Military Construction measure.

Looking ahead: The draft of the Agriculture bill, which funds USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, rolls out next week.

Keep in mind: There is no way Congress will finish its FY25 bills by the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1. The outcome of the November elections could determine whether spending decisions get punted into the next Congress.

Anti-hunger conference: The National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference kicks off today in Washington as lawmakers return. This year’s meeting comes on the heels of the House Ag Committee approving a farm bill that seeks to rein in SNAP benefit increases by restricting future updates of the Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to track changes in eating patterns and dietary guidance. This year’s meeting will include some focus on food as medicine, the concept that food can be used to treat illnesses.

For more on this week’s D.C. agenda, read our Washington Week Ahead.

McKinney at trial: Senator pressed me to stop ‘interfering’ in halal certification

A former high-ranking official in the Agriculture Department told a federal jury in New York Friday that Sen. Bob Menendez told him to stop looking into why Egypt had given a New Jersey business the sole rights to certify beef and liver exported to that country.

Ted McKinney, who was undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs during the Trump administration, said the New Jersey Democrat called him in 2019 and told him to “quit interfering with my constituent," according to news accounts of the trial.

Menendez is accused of taking bribes to advance the interests of businesses in New Jersey, including the company that was granted rights to perform halal certification. USDA had been looking into the decision, which eliminated any competition among halal certifiers, when Menendez pressured McKinney to back off.

"We thought something nefarious was going on," McKinney said, a comment that jurors were told to disregard. USDA eventually did back off when it learned the FBI was investigating.

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McKinney’s the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. He is expected to continue testifying today.

APHIS OKs new genetically engineered plants

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has approved five new genetically engineered plants, including the sixth version of pennycress.

Other plants identified as not posing a “plant pest risk” include two types of potatoes with disease resistance – specifically, resistance to potato late blight and potato virus Y. The potatoes were developed at Michigan State.

APHIS also approved a corn plant developed by Pioneer with resistance to certain insect pests and glufosinate herbicide, and a soybean from Qi Biodesign developed to produce more oleic acid.

The pennycress plant was developed by CoverCress, in which Bayer holds a majority share. Pennycress is a potential biofuel feedstock.

NRCS seeks input on climate-smart practices list

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service wants to know whether it should increase the number of practices eligible for climate-smart agriculture and forestry funding under the Inflation Reduction Act.

Input can be provided to local NRCS working groups, state technical committees or the agency’s National Climate Office. 

According to an emailed notice, the agency will “batch” submissions for the upcoming fiscal year that are received by June 7.

The agency encouraged "submissions that include relevant scientific literature supporting the climate change mitigation benefits of specific activities."

NRCS also wants comments on whether some practices should not be eligible for reimbursement.

Wheat growers concerned about innovation, farm bill delays

U.S. wheat growers are facing a variety of challenges, including lack of innovation in genetics and lack of consideration in government programs, the leader of the National Association of Wheat Growers tells Agri-Pulse’s Jeff Nalley.

In an Open Mic interview, Goule says, “wheat is 20% of the world's calories. Where are we going to grow that wheat if we're not able to adopt innovation, if we are not being taken into consideration in these government programs, whether they be for renewable and sustainable fuels” or other climate-smart-related priorities.

Goule also says it’s important for Congress to get a farm bill done this year. In 2025, it’s likely there will be significantly less money to work with, “making the bill even more difficult to write without additional pay-fors,” he says.

He said it: “The farm bill does lots of things. It provides conservation tools for us to help protect the soil and the air and the water. But really, … it is a risk management piece of legislation, because farmers have to deal with so many other things that other normal businesses don’t.” – Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, on Agri-Pulse Open Mic.