WASHINGTON, May 26, 2016 - California’s drought has taken center stage this week in the House as Republicans have pressed forward with two bills that would roll back environmental protections that limit the flow of irrigation water into the Central Valley.

The House is scheduled to finish debate today on an Energy-Water bill that still includes the drought provisions after Democrats failed yesterday to strip them out. And for good measure, Republicans also inserted the provisions into an energy policy bill that the House approved yesterday. 

The two-prong strategy probably stands little chance of success in the Senate, and it outraged some Democrats, including California’s Jerry McNerney. He says it’s a “desperation” move on the part of Republicans. He argues that the provisions would drain fresh water that’s critically needed in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents the Bakersfield area, says the endangered species protections that the legislation would weaken have made the drought worse than it should have been. “Bureaucrats release fresh water out to the sea. Our most valuable resource is being wasted,” McCarthy says. 

Trump urged to stand by ethanol. Donald Trump is scheduled to speak this afternoon at an energy conference in Bismarck, N.D., and two former senators are hoping he will stand by his support of the federal biofuel mandates. Former Sens. Jim Talent and Rick Santorum made their appeal in a letter to North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is reportedly advising Trump to allow the Renewable Fuel Standard to expire. 

In their letter to Cramer, the senators that the RFS “remains a vital bulwark for U.S. energy security against foreign manipulation.”

Ryan ready to roll out anti-poverty proposals. House Speaker Paul Ryan will begin rolling out the Republican policy agenda when lawmakers return from their week-long Memorial Day break.  The first piece of the agenda to be released will cover proposals to improve federal welfare programs. Ryan isn’t talking about what programs will be included but the drafting effort was intended to include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Ryan told reporters yesterday that the proposals will focus on removing disincentives for people to take jobs. The argument is that current rules reduce benefits so much that the income from a job isn’t worth it. “That’s the wrong signal to send,” Ryan says. He argues that existing federal assistance programs have produced a “stalemate in the war on poverty” and must be redesigned. 

Ryan says he knows the agenda won’t have a chance in the next Congress unless Republicans win the White House. But Ryan insists he still hasn’t made a decision about endorsing Trump.

Vilsack to Congress on catfish: Make up your mind. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack isn’t taking a position on the latest attempt in Congress to kill his department’s catfish inspection program. “We’ll do whatever Congress decides,” Vilsack told reporters yesterday after speaking to the Organic Trade Association. “My only request to Congress is make up your mind.”

The Senate voted 55-43 yesterday to pass a resolution of disapproval that would kill the rule needed to operate the inspection system. There’s no word yet on when the House will take up the measure. Vilsack says if the program stays at USDA “we will do it well.”

Vilsack headed back to Iowa. But when? Vilsack also told reporters he and his wife are headed back to Iowa at some point after he leaves office. But he didn’t say when and said he still doesn’t know what he’ll do next. “We’ve had a house in Des Moines for a while, and we have three grandchildren, so it’s not rocket science to figure out that we’ll go back to Des Moines,” Vilsack says. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, when we’ll go back, but that’s home.

Talks on Mexico organic agreement move ahead. Miles McEvoy with USDA’s National Organic Program says the department is making progress on an organic equivalency arrangement with Mexico. This would be in addition to current arrangements with Canada, EU, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea that facilitate trade in organic products by recognizing each other’s regulatory systems as equivalent. McEvoy says discussions are “well on their way” to implementing a “full and effective organic control system in Mexico.”

Fighting food waste, one Big Mac at a time. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway was a pioneer in the battle against food waste before he even knew there was a war. Conaway told a packed hearing on food waste yesterday that back in the early 70s, when he was an MP on the overnight shift at Food Hood in Texas, he would make a run about 2 a.m. to a McDonald’s just outside the base and pick up all the Big Macs the outlet was about to toss in the garbage and bring them back to his buddies. “I was fighting food waste back then before I knew it was a problem,” he said.

The hearing focused on way that food companies’ date labeling practices may be contributing to the waste problem. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat who has proposed legislation to standardize date labeling nationwide, says that some state requirements lead to consumers throwing out perfectly good food. 

Spencer Chase and Daniel Enoch contributed to this report. 


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