WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2015 - House Republican leaders are scrambling this week to avert a snarl in rail traffic - and a crisis over the federal debt limit - even as Paul Ryan prepares to take over as speaker and try to unite the fractious GOP caucus.
The House this week will take up another short-term extension of surface transportation funding that would also delay for three years a deadline for railroads to install Positive Train Control safety systems. Railroad companies say they can’t meet the current Dec. 31 deadline.
“America’s freight rail industry remains committed to fully implementing PTC and is moving as quickly as possible, without sacrificing safety,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the American Association of Railroads.
He said the extension provision was a "measured but rigorous” approach since it requires the Transportation Department to monitor the railroad’s progress. Authorization for surface transportation funding is due to expire Thursday, but would be extended to Nov. 20 under the bill. Lawmakers are working on a long-term bill.
It’s not clear how and when the House will act to raise the debt limit. The Treasury Department says the government will hit the current limit Nov. 3, putting the United States at risk of default.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says the House could take up a debt limit extension this week, but he also hinted Friday that it would be paired with some kind of budget disciplines, a non-starter for Democrats.
“It’s one thing to pass the debt limit. It’s another thing not to deal with it (the debt) and not find a solution,” McCarthy said.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Republicans were risking a “catastrophic” default. “This is about making sure our nation remains solvent, responsible and creditworthy,” he said.
Little opposition to Ryan likely, Ways and Means up for grabs
The House GOP conference is expected to meet Wednesday to nominate its speaker, and the full House is due to vote on Thursday. Republicans say they expect Ryan to get all but about a dozen GOP votes after he won over the hard-line members of the House Freedom Caucus last week with pledges on how he would handle immigration and other issues.
“What Congressman Ryan said is that he is not going to use the speaker’s office to advance a personal policy but to advance the policies of the majority of the majority,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Freedom Caucus member from Georgia.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., is one of the handful of Republicans who plan to vote against Ryan, but even he says he’s been reassured by Ryan’s pledges to avoid bucking the GOP caucus on immigration and other issues, or retaliating against lawmakers who buck the leadership.
“The culture of intimidation is over. Paul Ryan gave his word on that,” Huelskamp said.
Ryan’s ascendancy to speaker will open up the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents a heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley district north and east of Fresno, Calif., is among the likely candidates, along with Kevin Brady of Texas and Pat Tiberi of Ohio. Tiberi represents a Columbus-area district with corn and soybean production.
Conaway sees Ryan support for SNAP reform
The House Agriculture Committee this week will continue its investigation into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and also look into the use of big data in agriculture. Many farmers have been concerned about the use of cloud-stored data.
Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway believes a possible overhaul of SNAP would dovetail with Ryan’s broader interest in welfare reform, an issue Ryan has made clear would still be a priority for him as speaker. “I know many of you want to show the country how to fix our tax code, how to rebuild our military, how to strengthen the safety net, and how to lift people out of poverty,” Ryan said in a letter to fellow Republicans last week.
Conaway, R-Texas, doesn’t plan any legislative action on SNAP until the farm bill is due for reauthorization in 2018.
“We’ll do our work. If it can fold in with what Ways and Means had contemplated on the broader welfare issues, fantastic,” Conaway said. Ways and Means has jurisdiction over the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and health care spending.
Biotech regulatory agencies seeking public input on review
On Friday, the Obama administration is holding the first of three public meetings on its review of the federal regulatory system for genetically engineered crops. The wide-ranging review will include looking at whether and how new breeding techniques, including RNA interference, should be regulated.
Officials with the Agriculture Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration assured the Senate Agriculture Committee that the review would take into account public input as well as outside analysis, but the officials also said they believe the existing regulatory system is adequate.
Still, the review will look at “clarifying the role and responsibilities of the three agencies” and “position us for the future products of biotechnology,” said Michael Gregoire, associate administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Also this week, the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research will announce its first projects on Wednesday. The foundation was created by the 2014 farm bill to leverage private funding to shore up agricultural research spending.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Oct. 26
11:50 a.m. - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks to the American Academy of Pediatrics about child nutrition, Washington Convention Center.
2 p.m. - White House honors Champions of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture. Livestream available.
4 p.m. – USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Oct. 27
9 a.m. - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman speaks to the Atlantic Council on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, 1030 15th Street NW
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1300 Longworth.
Noon - The Center for Science in the Public Interest hosts briefing and food sampling on school nutrition, 325 Russell.
1 p.m. - Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses meeting, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, Md.
Wednesday, Oct. 28
Vilsack speaks at the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting, Orlando, Fla.
Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense to issue report.
Ninth ministerial-level meeting of the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum.
10 a.m. - Foundation for Food and Agriculture board meeting, public session; media roundtable at noon, 1307 New York Ave. NW.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on big data in agriculture, 1300 Longworth.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing on Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, 342 Dirksen.
4 p.m. - Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco, speaks on future food security challenges at Global Issues forum sponsored by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, 1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
8 p.m. - Third Republican presidential candidates’ debate on CNBC, Boulder, Colo. Undercard debate at 6 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 29
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden holds roundtables on the future of food and agriculture at the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University and speaks to the National FFA Conference in Louisville, Ky.
8:30 a.m. - Atlantic Food Summit, 1200 19th St NW
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales.
10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on welfare and poverty in America, 215 Dirksen.
Friday, Oct. 30
Harden holds National FFA roundtable on women in agriculture.
All day - Meeting on the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology and Developing a Long-Term Strategy for the Regulation of the Products of Biotechnology, FDA’s White Oak Campus, Silver Spring, Md.
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