Editor’s note: Philip Brasher, Sarah Gonzalez and Spencer Chase all contributed.
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2015 – Congress is moving closer to securing authority for the president to finalize a multi-lateral trade deal with Asia Pacific countries, only if congressional leaders can secure the necessary votes from a minority party skeptical of the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said President Obama’s trade agenda faces its first key test this week in Congress with a vote Tuesday in the Senate on whether to take up a bill to fast-track new trade agreements.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced last week that he was moving ahead with the legislation over the objections of Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who argued that the Senate should first act on highway and surveillance measures.
Republicans, who control 54 seats, will need some help from Democrats to get the 60 votes necessary to advance the bill. To bring along Democratic votes, Republicans planned to combine the fast-track bill with a second measure that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs that provide training and cash assistance to businesses, workers and farmers hurt by imports.
McConnell previewed the debate before the Senate ended its business last week, asserting that nothing less than U.S. power and prestige in the Pacific Rim was at stake in the pending, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The fast-track bill is needed to wrap up negotiations with Japan and Canada and complete the agreement, according to the administration.
“We’ll have a choice to make,” McConnell said. “Would we rather see Chinese workers and Chinese farmers or American workers and American farmers reap the economic benefits of selling more to this dynamic region?”
Obama met with several Democratic senators at the White House last week, and Schultz promised more of the same. The week before he met with about 30 House Democrats.
Obama will “continue the engagement we’ve seen for the past couple of weeks and maybe even months now, and that is both publicly making the case why this makes sense for America’s workforce and American jobs, but also working directly and privately with members of Congress to answer their questions and make sure they have all the information they need to make a decision on the merits,” he said.
Meanwhile, The World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether or not language mandated by the U.S. government requiring disclosure of where a meat-producing animal was born, raised, and slaughtered is compliant with international trade regulations. A ruling is expected to be circulated to WTO members “no later than” May 18th, meaning that a decision this week would be a little ahead of the WTO’s announced schedule.
Should the WTO rule against the U.S. - an outcome that is largely expected - the wheels could turn pretty quickly on action to repeal the controversial rule. House Agriculture Committee chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, has pledged swift repeal action to prevent the potential for retaliation from Canada and Mexico. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA has done what it can do with current statutory language, suggesting the provision may have to be repealed and started over from scratch to be compliant with WTO obligations.
This week, the Senate Agriculture Committee will focus on the operations of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the House Agriculture Committee will review pollinator health.
The agriculture industry is still anticipating the release of the White House National Pollinator Strategy, particularly how the USDA and EPA co-led task force will address the use of pesticides.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, May 11
4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 12
10:30 a.m. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2016 for the Federal Communications Commission, Dirksen 138.
USTR’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Ambassador Darci Vetter, will speak to the Washington Agricultural Roundtable in Washington.
5-8 p.m. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) holds its second webinar for stakeholder engagement regarding APHIS’s regulation of the products of biotechnology.
Wednesday, May 13
10 a.m. – House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on railroad deregulation, 2167 Rayburn.
10:00 a.m. – Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing to examine proposed budget estimates for fiscal year 2016 for the Bureau of Land Management, Dirksen 124.
10:00 a.m. – House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Obama Administration’s CEQ draft guidance for GHG Emissions, 1324 Longworth.
1:30 p.m. – House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on pollinator health, 1300 Longworth.
Thursday, May 14
8:30 a.m. – USDA releases Weekly Export Sales.
10 a.m. – Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on futures regulation, 106 Dirksen.
2:00 p.m. – House Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on energy opportunities in the Western Hemisphere, 2200 Rayburn.
Friday, May 15
9:00 a.m. - House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust enforcement agencies, 2141 Rayburn.
9:15 a.m. – House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on FCC Reauthorization, 2322 Rayburn
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