WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2016 - President-elect Donald Trump continues his search for key cabinet members this week, while lawmakers look to finish their work for the year by passing a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running into next year.
Congressional negotiators also are trying to wrap up a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that could be passed as the 114th Congress comes to an end, likely this week. The 115th Congress convenes Jan. 3.
Trump met for two hours on Friday with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., amid speculation that she could be a candidate for secretary of agriculture or another department.
But she issued a statement afterward that gave no indication that a cabinet post was discussed. She described the meeting as a “thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion” that covered coal, the Dakota Access pipeline, the Export-Import Bank and rural banks.
The meeting came amid speculation that she was under consideration for secretary of agriculture or another department. She declined to talk to reporters as she left Trump Tower, and a statement released by her Senate office gave no indication that a cabinet post was discussed.
Heitkamp said on Thursday that she planned to discuss the rural economy with Trump, and Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who is close to the Trump operation, said the meeting was about a USDA nomination.
However, Heitkamp released a statement Friday afternoon that detailed her work on energy policy and Indian affairs, issues that fall under the Interior or Energy departments.Trump has a series of additional meetings scheduled on Monday with more possible nominees, including Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican who is rumored to be a candidate to head the Office of Management and Budget.
Meanwhile, the continuing resolution that is currently funding the government expires on Friday, and House and Senate leaders have been debating whether to extend the new CR through March or April, according to congressional aides. Senate leaders prefer the later expiration date out of concern that senators are going to be tied down with handling confirmations for Trump's nominees.
The House Agriculture Committee will hold its final hearing of the year on Thursday on the challenges facing the historically black 1890 land-grant colleges and universities.
The committee has one other item of unfinished business, issuance of a report summarizing findings from the panel's two-year series of hearings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said he expected the report to be released by next week.
Conaway, who is gearing up to start work on a new farm bill next year, said he expects the committee to hold a series of listening sessions around the country. He said they will be more like town hall meetings rather than formal hearings.
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Meanwhile this week, a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Wednesday will allow critics of USDA's catfish inspection program to take one final swipe at it this year.
Seafood importers and others opponents of the USDA program had hoped to kill it in this Congress. But bowing to pressure from southern lawmakers, House GOP leaders have refused to schedule a vote this year on a Senate-approved resolution that would kill the rule under which USDA has been operating the inspection program.
The Energy and Commerce's Health subcommittee, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration, hasn't announced its witnesses, but the hearing's title makes clear the direction the session will take: “Waste and Duplication in the USDA Catfish Inspection Program.”
An announcement of the hearing said it would explore the “potential transfer of jurisdiction over catfish … back to FDA.” (USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which now has responsibility for catfish inspection, is under the House Agriculture Committee's jurisdiction.)
Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Dec. 5
American Seed Trade Association CSS 2016 Seed Expo, all week, Chicago.
4 p.m. - Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on the U.S.-Japan economic relationship, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW.
6:30 p.m. - Stand with Contract Farmers forum to promote implementation of new regulations on livestock and poultry contracting practices, South Orientation Theater, Capitol Visitor Center.
Tuesday, Dec. 6
Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force public meeting and webcast, New Orleans.
2 p.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on the Obama administration's pivot to Asia, 2172 Rayburn.
5 p.m. - National Christmas tree lighting ceremony. West front, U.S. Capitol.
Wednesday, Dec. 7
All day - Forum of Scientific Society Leaders on Genetically Engineered Crops, National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing, “1890 Land-Grant Institutions: Recruitment Challenges and Scholarship Opportunities,” 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on USDA's catfish inspection program, 2322 Rayburn.
Thursday, Dec. 8.
FAO issues monthly food price index.
All day - Heritage Foundation Energy and Climate Policy Summit, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
10 a.m. - Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on management challenges at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. 419 Dirksen.
6:15 p.m. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and House Appropriations Committee Hal Rogers to be honored by U.S. Global Leadership Coalition for their “exceptional leadership in strengthening America's international affairs programs.” Ronald Reagan Building.
Friday, Dec. 9
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