WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2015 – Key congressional committees start laying the groundwork this week for pushing the Obama administration’s trade agenda through Congress with back-to-back meetings with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Froman will appear Tuesday morning before the Senate Finance Committee and then will be questioned in the afternoon by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The hearings come as Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, continues to talk with the panel’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden or Oregon, about details of a bill that would give the president fast-track negotiating power, or trade promotion authority, which some on the Hill see as necessary to wrap up negotiations with Japan on a Pacific Rim trade agreement. A TPA bill is expected to be introduced next month.

Froman will be questioned about progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pressed to make sure various trade concerns are addressed in the final talks. Senate Finance member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., along with the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, Sander Levin of Michigan, and other lawmakers have been demanding that the deal include language to prevent countries from manipulating their currency.

The acting deputy trade ambassador, Wendy Cutler, will be meeting in Washington Wednesday with Japanese Ambassador Takeo Mori to talk about motor vehicle issues in the TPP negotiations.

U.S. negotiators are still waiting for Japan to make a new proposal to reduce its key agricultural barriers, a linchpin to the overall deal. Still, “the administration is certainly stepping up their engagement and activity” on the Hill, said Ways and Means member Ron Kind, D-Wisc. “It tells me they may be getting close” to an agreement.

Froman met privately in the Capitol last week with Kind and other members of the House committee.

Kind is chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, which has been discussing what the group’s 47 members want to see in a TPA bill. One element Democrats are certain to seek is an extension of trade adjustment assistance.

Democrats opposed to the trade deals have been stepping up their criticism in recent days, arguing against giving Obama TPA, which would allow Congress only an up-or-down vote on TPP and other trade agreements.

Levin has laid out an eight-page list of proposals for the TPP talks that include rules on currency and worker rights as well as demands aimed at forcing Japan to open its market to U.S. automobiles and farm commodities.

Meanwhile on Monday, the Senate will resume debating the Keystone XL pipeline, with a cloture vote on a substitute amendment that could set the stage for a final vote on the legislation. The debate broke off Thursday night leaving Democrats angry at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for denying them time to argue for their amendments.

McConnell’s decision to move to a cloture vote left in limbo several amendments, including one by Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to delist the lesser prairie-chicken from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service last year listed the bird as threatened in the central and southern Plains.

The amendment was unlikely to be approved anyway, since it would have needed 60 votes, but the issue will come up again, possibly as a policy rider to an appropriations measure. “What we need here is rainfall and the moisture that comes from snow and rain, and that listing as a threatened species doesn’t create the moisture necessary to create the habitat for the return of the population of the bird,” Moran said. 

On Wednesday morning, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chaired by John Thune, R-S.D., will investigate a range of issues affecting freight transportation. The issues that could come up include the delays in grain shipments that plagued his region last year and the administration’s proposed safety standards for tank cars that carry ethanol and crude oil.

A Soy Transportation Coalition analysis of grain shipping rates has shown steady improvement since last fall. During the first two weeks in January, 91 percent of participating grain handling facilities said that the railroads’ cycle times were faster than they were a year ago. 

Wednesday afternoon, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will hold an organizational session of his panel, its first meeting since he took over the helm. Roberts has yet to announce a timetable for the major issues on his committee’s agenda, including reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Jan. 26

3 p.m. – USDA releases Poultry Slaughter report.

Tuesday, Jan. 27

All day – National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: Energy and Climate Change. EPA Administrator delivers keynote address at 9 a.m., Hyatt Regency Crystal City.

10 a.m. –Senate Finance Committee hearing on trade policy, 215 Dirksen. U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman to testify.

10:30 a.m. –House Budget Committee hearing on the Congressional Budget Office’s budget and economic outlook, 210 Cannon.

2 p.m. –House Ways and Means Committee hearing on trade, HVC 210. U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman to testify.

Wednesday, Jan. 28

All day -National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment.

9:15 a.m. –House Appropriations Committee organizational meeting, 2359 Rayburn.

9:45 a.m. –House Natural Resources Committee organizational meeting, 1324 Longworth.

10 a.m. –Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on freight rail issues, 253 Russell.

12:45 p.m. –Resources for the Future holds seminar on how the global food supply will be affected by climate change, 1616 P Street NW and webcast.

3 p.m. –USDA releases Peanut Stocks and Processing report.

4 p.m. –Senate Agriculture Committee organizational meeting, 328A Russell.

Thursday, Jan. 29

All day -National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment.

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

9 a.m. -EPA will hold one of three hearings on its proposed new air quality standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, EPA headquarters.

Friday, Jan. 30

3 p.m. –USDA releases Agricultural Prices, Cattle, Catfish Production, Egg Products, State Export Data, and Peanut Prices reports.


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