WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2015 – Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts is trying to reach a sweeping agreement on child nutrition programs in time to move a reauthorization bill this week.

However, heading into the weekend the Kansas Republican still didn’t have a deal on key policy issues, including future standards for sodium and whole grains, or where the extra spending the bill would need to win support from Democrats would come from.

The committee is tentatively scheduled to mark up a bill on Thursday.

In addition to getting Democratic support, Roberts also has his eye on what can pass the House. The bill must be “somewhat consistent” with what the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, John Kline, R-Minn., will support, Roberts told Agri-Pulse. “To get all those parties together … has been very difficult,” Roberts said.

Moving legislation of any kind is a challenge this month because of the abbreviated work weeks and other distractions. Rosh Hashanah runs through Tuesday, and Yom Kippur falls in the middle of next week ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Capitol Hill.

The Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, will have their second set of debates Wednesday on CNN.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are planning to debate antiabortion legislation this week even as they seek to avoid a government shutdown over conservative demands for using a stopgap funding bill to defund Planned Parenthood. The government will shut down if Congress doesn’t pass a continuing resolution to fund operations after fiscal 2016 starts Oct. 1.

House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans began internal discussions last week about what could be in the continuing resolution.

Many House conservatives have joined Texas senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz in demanding that the CR cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. “We can’t be afraid of having the battle,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. “If you’re in the middle of the battle and you telegraph to the other side that you’re unwilling to have that battle then you’ve already capitulated.”

The House Agriculture Committee will use the short work week to hold an unusual two-day hearing with agency administrators from across the Agriculture Department. The sessions, which start Tuesday afternoon, should be something like a compressed version of the wide-ranging agency hearings the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee holds early each year.

“I just want to know who they are, what they do, and give the committee a chance to meet them,” Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said of the agency heads. “We haven’t done this since I’ve been in Congress.”

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will bring in officials from the Food and Drug Administration amid questions about the adequacy of the agency’s food safety funding. The agency last week finalized the first two major rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

Meanwhile, there will be about 270 farmers on Capitol Hill this week as the National Farmers Union is having its annual fly-in.

The messages the NFU members will be carrying will put them at odds with many other farm groups. They will be arguing against repealing the country-of-origin labeling law for meat while also urging lawmakers to oppose the still-being-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement when it is submitted to Congress.

“We’ve demonstrated that we have enough votes to stall out repeal (of COOL) in the Senate,” said Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs at NFU.

But he said the politics of the issue could shift depending on what amount of retaliatory tariffs the World Trade Organization allows Canada and Mexico to impose on U.S. products as a result of their successful challenge of the labeling law.

NFU backs a bill introduced by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Senate Agriculture’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, that would convert the labeling law to a voluntary program but preserve language that would bar meat from being labeled as a product of the United States unless it is born, raised and slaughtered in this country.

The COOL issue is one of several that Roberts is wrestling with in his Senate committee, but right now school nutrition appears to have taken top priority.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which the Obama administration used to raise nutrition standards for school meals, expires Sept. 30, and the White House is looking to lock in the gains through a reauthorization bill. School nutritionists, however, are looking to Roberts to win some concessions on issues such as sodium and whole grains.

“One side is perfectly happy with the way things are now,” Roberts said of the administration. “The other side says, ‘Look, you’d better get a bill to protect what you have now with needed reforms that everybody would agree that we need,’ especially the school nutritionists.”

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

Monday, Sept. 14

All day - National Association of State Departments of Agriculture annual meeting in Hawaii.

4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.

Tuesday, Sept. 15

Growth Energy advocacy conference. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at 10 a.m. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at 12:30 p.m.

U.S. Trade Representative’s chief agricultural negotiator, Darci Vetter, meets with the National Association of Wheat Growers.

NASDA annual meeting.

1:30 p.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing, first of two days, on Agriculture Department agencies, 1300 Longworth.

Wednesday, Sept. 16

National Farmers Union fly-in, through Friday.

Vilsack makes an announcement on food waste in Long Island City, New York, at City Harvest’s food rescue facility.

NASDA annual meeting.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Animas River spill, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture continues two-day hearing on USDA agencies, 1300 Longworth.

8 p.m. - Republican presidential candidates debate on CNN. Lower-polling candidates debate at 6 p.m. 

2 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on FDA's implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, 192 Dirken. 

Thursday, Sept. 17

Vilsack will announce winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition in New York.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden will participate in a Google+ Hangout with veterans in agriculture and veteran training organizations.

NFU Fly-in.

Senate Agriculture Committee tentatively scheduled to mark up child nutrition bill.

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

9:45 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on nomination of Sarah Feinberg to be the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, 253 Russell.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hold joint hearing on the Animas River spill, 2154 Rayburn.

Friday, Sept. 18

NFU Fly-in.


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