WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2016 - The nation’s capital is digging out of a monster snowstorm that is playing havoc with schedules even as much of official Washington will be focused on Iowa for the last week of campaigning ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses.

The Democratic candidates will face off in a CNN town hall Monday night in Des Moines, and the Republicans will hold their seventh debate, which Fox News will host in the Iowa capital on Thursday.

Both races are tight. The latest CNN poll in Iowa had Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side while a Fox News poll released Sunday on the GOP race had Donald Trump up by 11 points over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 34 percent to 23 percent.

The Republican race has taken on implications for federal biofuel policy, thanks to the last-minute effort by Gov. Terry Branstad and industry leaders to stop Cruz from winning the caucuses because of his opposition to biofuel mandates.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced Trump at a rally Saturday, but an aide said Grassley would appear next weekend with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and is discussing appearances with other candidates, including Cruz. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, will appear with Rubio on Monday but isn’t endorsing him.

The East Coast blizzard has forced the House to cancel votes this week, and the Senate has postponed its first vote until Wednesday. The House had only planned a few votes as it was because of the Democratic retreat later in the week in Baltimore that President Obama will attend.

photo courtesy of Sarah Hubbart, Mike Torrey and Associates 

Republicans on both sides of the Capitol have been making plans to keep the pressure on the Obama administration over the “waters of the United State” (WOTUS) rule and other regulatory issues.

The House Agriculture Committee has postponed a hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. In announcing the hearing, Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said EPA is “seemingly oblivious to the voluntary conservation efforts of America’s farmers and ranchers, and perhaps most alarmingly, apparently addicted to writing regulations” that ignore the input of lawmakers and stakeholders.

Republican senators, meanwhile, are talking about forcing another debate on the WOTUS issue when the Senate takes up a bipartisan energy bill this week, theEnergy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012).

Republicans know they can’t kill the rule while a Democrat is still in the White House. Last week, the Senate GOP came up eight votes short in getting the 60 necessary to even get a vote to override the president’s veto of a WOTUS disapproval resolution. But Republicans still believe WOTUS is a potent election-year issue.

“The more the voters look at it, the more pressure there is for elected officials, senators and congressmen to join with us,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

It’s not clear what future the energy bill has beyond the Senate, in part because senators may try to load it up with partisan amendments. The bill, which came out of the Senate Energy and Natural Committee on an 18-4 vote, includes provisions to support renewable energy such as $2.5 billion to support grid modernization and grid-scale energy storage

An energy bill that the House approved in December, 249-174, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act ( H.R. 8) lost Democratic support after some renewable provisions were omitted from the bill.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office is scheduled to issue its annual Budget and Economic Outlook, which could renew the political focus on budget deficits.

Summary numbers that the CBO released last week project that deficits are going to start growing in relation to the economy for the first time since 2009, due in part to the package of tax break extensions that Congress enacted as part of the fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill.

CBO now estimates that the 2016 deficit will reach $544 billion, $130 billion more than was projected in August.

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On Wednesday, the White House is putting a focus on child hunger with a meeting hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. The meeting will include families, academics, practitioners, advocates, religious leaders and federal, state, and local officials.

According to the White House, the event will include discussions about the impact of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other domestic nutrition programs in “reducing food insecurity and poverty, as well as in improving long-term health, education, and economic outcomes.” The meeting will be live-streamed.

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

Monday, Jan. 25

9 a.m. - USDA releases the monthly Food Price Outlook.

2 p.m. - The Congressional Budget Office releases its annual Budget and Economic Outlook.

Tuesday, Jan. 26

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Microsoft executives announce winners of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge.

9 a.m. - Heritage Foundation forum, “Antitrust Policy for a New Administration,”

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the impact of EPA regulations, 1300 Longworth. (Postponed)

10:30 a.m. - Senate Budget Committee hearing on the CBO outlook, 608 Dirksen. (Cancelled)

Wednesday, Jan. 27

Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show, through Friday, San Diego.

9: 30 a.m. - House Budget Committee hearing on the CBO outlook, 210 Cannon. (Postponed)

10 a.m. - Center for Strategic and International Studies forum, “Clean Power Plan 2016 Outlook,” 1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW.

1 p.m. - White House hosts “Convening on Child Hunger in America.”

Thursday, Jan. 28

Cattle Industry Convention.

Vilsack will host a national media call to announce a new conservation initiative to protect wetland ecosystems.

Vilsack attends the “RACE: Are We So Different” Symposium at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines. 

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman participates in a hearing on the post-African Growth and Opportunity Act review.

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

2 p.m. - The International Food Policy Research Institute releases the 2015 Global Hunger Index, 2033 K St. NW.

9 p.m. - Seventh Republican presidential debate, Des Moines, Iowa.

Friday,  Jan. 29

Cattle Industry Convention.

Vilsack speaks at the Ninth Annual Peoples Company Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines.


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