WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2016 - Congress is moving toward passing a stopgap funding bill that would ensure that the government stays open through the election. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set up a likely vote Wednesday on a continuing resolution that would keep the government funded until Dec. 9. President Obama met with congressional leaders yesterday afternoon at the White House and said later that he was encouraged by the “constructive work that’s being done.” 

The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1 but none of the appropriations bills needed to fund the government then have yet to pass. The stopgap funding bill will include money to combat the Zika virus.

Vilsack tells NFU to inform Congress about the need for stronger safety net. Congress needs to hear from farmers about what should be done to improve safety net programs in the next farm bill, Vilsack told members of the National Farmers Union who are in D.C. for a three-day fly-in this week. Lawmakers started out the process of the current farm bill asking how much money they could save, but that can’t be repeated for the 2018 farm bill, he stressed.

Cotton farmers are not happy with the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) and dairy farmers want improvements to the Margin Protection Program (MPP), both of which are insurance programs that were adopted in the 2014 farm bill, Vilsack said.

“It is much better to start the conversation … with what is the need out there,” Vilsack said. “I think if you start out the conversation that way, then you can have a much more robust debate – a much more unified opportunity – for agriculture and rural America to speak with a single voice about the importance of this (farm) bill and you end up with a stronger and a more significantly-crafted farm bill.”

USDA is doing it all it can. Visiting NFU members pressed Vilsack repeatedly on ways the Department could better help struggling farmers, prompting an impassioned response from Secretary Vilsack.

“Every tool that I have, I have used,” Vilsack said and pounded the podium. “It’s a little frustrating … I’ve been dealing with this damn thing for thirty years. I absolutely understand it. I represented those farmers in the eighties. I know the pain. I don’t have to go to a meeting. I don’t have to have a photo op. I understand this, which is why every program, every opportunity, every capacity I have is used. I’ll continue to do it until Jan. 20, 2017. And then someone else is going to have to do it.”

Laying a foundation for GMO disclosure rule. The USDA will not be able to finish work on the federal rule for the GMO disclosure law despite the hopes of some, Secretary Vilsack said Monday. However, he did stress that the department is working to get as much done as it can before the next administration takes over.

Vilsack said the USDA is trying to “lay the foundation” for the eventual rule that preempts any state laws dealing with labeling mandates for food with genetically modified ingredients.

Currently USDA is preparing to publish a series of questions for public feedback “that we think are essential to creating a system that makes sense,” Vilsack said. 

FDA mulls limits on antibiotic use. The Food and Drug Administration is considering setting limits on how long some antibiotics can be given to livestock and poultry for treatment of infections. There are currently no time limits on some uses of the drugs.

The agency is soliciting industry and public input on what the limits should be. But Steve Roach of the consumer advocacy group Food Animal Concerns Trust said it could take several years for FDA to finalize the restrictions. 

FDA says its aim is to maximize the effectiveness of the drugs while curbing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The drugs the agency is looking at include tyrosine and chlortetracycline. 

House Ag Committee’s minority staff director heads to NFU. Robert Larew will be leaving his position in the House Agriculture Committee in November to work for the National Farmers Union as the group’s senior vice president of public policy and communications

Before working for the House Agriculture Committee Larew worked as a legislative assistant and legislative director for Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.

Peterson, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Monday: “I’m sorry to see him go but know that he will continue to play a role in shaping policy that impacts rural America.”

Rep. DeLauro demands Justice investigate Chipotle for not paying employees. Thousands of restaurant workers have filed a class action lawsuit against Chipotle Mexican Grill for forcing them to work “off the clock” without pay and the Connecticut Democrat has fired off a letter to the Justice Department, asking it to investigate.

“These accusations are in direct contradiction to federal wage and hour law, as defined in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, depriving workers of the wages and earnings to which they are legally entitled,” DeLauro said in the letter.

Ways and Means to consider tax bills for citrus and irrigation. When the House Ways and Means Committee marks up a slew of bills Wednesday, it will be considering legislation to bring some tax relief to the citrus and irrigation sectors.

The committee will be voting on the Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act, sponsored by Florida Republican Vern Buchanan, and the Water and Agriculture Tax Reform Act of 2015, sponsored by Colorado Republican Ken Buck.

Buchanan’s bill would allow citrus farmers to expense the cost of replanting trees that have been destroyed by the citrus greening disease. Buck’s bill would decrease the tax burden on ditch irrigation companies to “help promote access to water.”
He said it: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking to a gathering of NFU members Monday about USDA’s purchase of $20 million worth of cheese and the need to help dairy farmers: “The funny thing is that people think I purchased it personally because I announced it. People come up to me and say, ‘Where are you going to put all that cheese?’”

Phil Brasher contributed to this story.


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