WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2016 - Farmers will be lobbying Congress on issues ranging from agribusiness mergers to the Trans-Pacific Partnership this week, and lawmakers appear to be near a deal to keep the government running into the new fiscal year.
Several farm groups will have members fanning out across Capitol Hill and meeting agency officials this week, including the National Farmers Union, National Pork Producers Council, and the United Fresh Produce Association, which is holding its annual Washington conference.
NFU members, who will be meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday and heading to the Hill later, are raising concerns about a series of pending mergers between seed and fertilizer companies as well as Bayer’s attempt to take over Monsanto.
The pork producers and fruit and vegetable growers will be pushing for approval of the TPP while lobbying on other issues.
The biggest priority for Congress is figuring out how to keep government agencies funded when the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. None of the fiscal 2017 appropriations bills have been enacted yet.
The Senate could vote as soon as this week on a continuing resolution to fund the government into December. A battle has been brewing in the House over how long the CR should last: Some House conservatives are demanding that it extend into the next Congress, which would essentially freeze current spending levels into the new year.
But House Republicans met privately Friday to discuss their strategy, and a majority appeared to agree with the Senate plan, lawmakers said.
“A CR until March would do severe damage to our military capabilities. … For that reason among others I think we will see a short-term” measure, said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
The question then is what to do in December. House Republicans said they don’t want to pass a government-wide omnibus bill as Congress has done in recent years. Instead, they want to package agency appropriations bills into smaller bundles, called “minibuses.” That idea is already meeting resistance from Democrats, who fear Republicans will only try to enact minibuses for defense and agencies that are priorities for the GOP.
At stake in the spending battle are a variety of policy riders important to various agribusiness interests, including ones to block implementation of the “waters of the United States” rule and another that would protect farms from being forced to turn over records of pesticide usage to workers’ “designated representatives.”
Senate leaders also hope to pass a two-year water projects authorization bill this week.
The bill includes provisions to allow the Corps of Engineers to accept financial assistance from local communities, including port authorities, that are seeking to improve navigation and flood control. Local sponsors also would be allowed to do the maintenance on their own.
Under current law, the Corps must get congressional appropriations and issue contracts before work can be done on locks and dams and harbors, “even when a lock gate is literally falling off,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
The Senate bill also makes permanent a program included in the 2014 water bill to provide low interest rate financing for large dollar-value projects.
Also this week, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on potential for trade with Cuba and the impact of existing restrictions. Committee member Rick Crawford of Arkansas says he has agreement with key Cuban-American lawmakers to pass legislation this year that would end the requirement that Cuba pay upfront in cash for all imports.
“My guess is the producers will want to talk about that” restriction at the hearing, said House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
The Senate’s fiscal 2017 Financial Services appropriations bill already contains a provision to end the restriction.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sept. 12
National Farmers Union fall fly-in, through Wednesday.
United Fresh Produce Association’s annual Washington conference, through Wednesday, Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman travels to Mexico City for bilateral meeting, and to participate in a panel at the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations.
10 a.m. - Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on trade policy with four former U.S. trade representatives, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW
3:30 p.m. - CSIS forum, “The Power of Global Food Security: Examining Economic and National Security Implications,” with panel including agricultural trade negotiator Darci Vetter, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW.
4 p.m. - USDA releases Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, Sept. 13
United Fresh conference.
9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum on “Food and Agriculture Priorities for the Next Administration,” National Press Club.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on SNAP employment and training programs, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. interests in Brexit, 419 Dirksen.
11 a.m. - Plate of the Union food truck stops by Capitol Hill, D St. SE and 1st St. SE.
Wednesday, Sept. 14
Former ag secretaries John Block and Dan Glickman will advocate for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively, during a debate at a breakfast session of the United Fresh conference.
Froman participates in the President's Export Council meeting. Vetter speaks to the Minnesota and Iowa Farm Bureaus.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at the USDA Climate Variability, Water and Land Use Fall Forum at Arizona State University, Tempe.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture hearing on agricultural trade with Cuba, 1300 Longworth.
Thursday, Sept. 15
Froman goes to Brussels for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture hearing on CFTC nominations, 328A Russell.
3 p.m. - Heritage Foundation forum on the impact of eliminating agriculture subsidies in New Zealand (webcast available), 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
Friday, Sept. 16
8:45 a.m. - Resources for the Future forum, Carbon Pricing in North America: Leading a New Era of Climate Policy, 1616 P St. NW
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