WASHINGTON, April 12, 2015 – Now, the real work begins. Congressional Republicans this week will start moving the appropriations bills that give them their best shot at picking apart President Obama’s regulatory agenda.

Separately, a bill to provide the president with fast-track trade authority is widely expected to be released this week. Passage of a bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority bill is critical to wrapping up negotiations over the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade agreement and smoothing its eventual passage in the Congress.

Trade and appropriations are likely to be the top priorities for Congressional Republicans to complete this year.

Trade is the single issue where Republicans believe they can reach agreement with the president. Appropriations bills are critical because Republicans plan to add provisions to them to block a range of the administration’s regulatory actions.

A House Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled Wednesday to vote on a fiscal 2016 spending bill for the Army Corps of Engineers that’s likely to include a provision attacking the administration’s proposed rule for re-defining the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) regulated by the Clean Water Act.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Agri-Pulse in an exclusive Open Mic interview that Republicans also will try to stop the administration’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from electric utilities.

Such policy riders could provoke a veto fight with the White House, but McConnell said Republicans will try to avoid a confrontation that would lead to a government-wide shutdown. To that end, appropriations bills will be sent to the White House individually, rather than as a large package, he said. An impasse over an individual bill could shut down just a handful of agencies.

“If you pass individual appropriations bills, you don’t have a government-wide shutdown,” McConnell said. “If the president vetoes a bill that temporarily shuts down the Environmental Protection Agency, I don’t think that’s a national calamity. It’s an argument over what the bill ought to say.” 

EPA is funded through the Interior-Environment appropriations bill, which also provides spending for the Interior Department and the Forest Service. The Energy and Water bill funds the Energy Department as well as the Corps of Engineers.

For proof that Republicans have a good chance to stop some regulations via policy riders, McConnell cites past successes in rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations on the financial services industry. A provision slipped into the fiscal 2015 omnibus spending measure killed part of the Dodd-Frank law forcing big banks to spin off their derivatives business.

House Republicans also will move a separate, standalone bill to attempt to stop the WOTUS rule. The measure that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will vote on Wednesday is expected to be similar to a bill (HR 5078) that the House passed last year, 262-152, which would have killed the rule. A standalone bill would give Republicans a chance to force Democrats to go on record on the issue, but the measure would be much easier for Obama to veto than an appropriations measure that is needed to keep government agencies operating.

The TPA bill, meanwhile, will provide an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation before the showdowns on spending later this year when the appropriations measures get to the White House. McConnell told Agri-Pulse that the bill would be released in the “very near future.” “Hopefully, that’s something we can pass in the Senate in coming weeks,” he said.

The AFL-CIO has been ramping up lobbying against the legislation in conjunction with the bill’s expected release. On Wednesday, union members will rally on Capitol Hill, and on Saturday, there are more than 50 events throughout the country.

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Lawmakers are certain to be hearing a very different message Wednesday from 125 pork producers, members of the National Pork Producers Council, who will be in Washington for their a legislative conference.

A TPA bill sets congressional priorities for trade agreements and lays out the process for ratifying trade deals through a process that doesn’t allow Congress to alter the details of the agreement. Late last week, congressional aides said the terms of the TPA bill were still under negotiation.

Also Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold an important hearing on overhauling international food aid. As reported in the Agri-Pulse weekly newsletter, Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is considering packaging a sweeping rewrite of Food for Peace along with authorizing the Obama administration’s $1-billion-a-year Feed the Future agricultural development initiative.

Corker and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., this year re-introduced the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 525), which would allow dollars to be used to purchase commodities overseas, not just from American producers. Their bill also would strike down a requirement, known as cargo preference, that at least half of Food for Peace commodities be shipped on U.S.-flag carriers.

The hearing comes as the Obama administration has been in negotiations with the shipping industry to maintain the current cargo preference requirement while also allowing substantial purchases of overseas aid commodities.

Corker told Agri-Pulse he blocked a Feed the Future authorization bill from becoming law late last year because he wanted to consider the issue in tandem with the far more controversial overhaul of Food for Peace.

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

Monday, April 13

All day – National Water Policy Forum, meeting of National Association of Clean Water Agencies and others, Westin Washington City Center. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will address the group at 3:30 p.m.

4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly All day – National Water Policy Forum.

Tuesday, April 14 

9:30 a.m. – Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing with inspectors general for EPA and the Interior Department, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. – House Judiciary Committee hearing on EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from electric utilities, and on discussion draft of bill to allow for judicial review of rule.

10 a.m. – House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2141 Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing pending rail, pipeline and hazmat rulemakings, 2167 Rayburn.

10 a.m. – Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, 253 Russell.

1 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on presentation by National 4-H conference participants concerning the future of U.S. agriculture, 1300 Longworth.  

1:30 p.m. – House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on federal “water grabs,” 1324 Longworth.

3:30 p.m. - Council on Food, Agricultural and Resources Economics hosts forum on “Strategies for Investing in Rural America,” 1302 Longworth.

Wednesday, April 15

All day – Organic Trade Association policy conference, Newseum. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is among the speakers.

All day – National Water Policy Forum.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman speaks to the Outdoor Industry Association Fly-In.

9:30 a.m. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on food aid reform,

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on SNAP and the role of charities, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. – House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on child nutrition, 2175 Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee markup of fiscal 2016 bill, 2362A Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2362A Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on efforts to reform the Export-Import Bank, 2154 Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on President Obama’s UN climate pledge, 2318 Rayburn.

10 a.m. – House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup of WOTUS-related legislation.

2 p.m. – Panel sponsored by Chicago Council on Global Affairs on “Strengthening Global Food Systems for a Safer and Healthier World,” 328 Russell.

Thursday, April 16

All day – Global food security symposium sponsored by the Chicago Council, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

10 a.m. – Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2015, 366 Dirksen.

1:15 p.m. – Froman speaks at conference sponsored by Bloomberg BNA and Blooberg Government on the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, U.S. Institute of Peace.

5:30 p.m. –Vilsack to speak at Global Child Nutrition Foundation gala, Ronald Reagan Building.

Friday, April 17

No events currently scheduled.


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