WASHINGTON, March 26, 2017 - With the Republican agenda in disarray, the House Agriculture Committee moves ahead this week with preparations for a new farm bill by diving into commodity concerns and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday agreed to cancel a vote on one of the GOP’s top two priorities - health care reform - after it became clear it couldn’t pass despite concessions to hard-line conservatives.

“I will not sugar coat this: This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” Ryan told reporters after he told House Republicans they were moving on to other issues.

Republicans say they still hope to pass the health care bill, but the clock is ticking.

Republicans want to enact the legislation under budget reconciliation rules that won’t require any Democratic support to pass the Senate. But GOP leaders would lose the reconciliation option for health care once Congress passes a fiscal 2018 budget, and they want to use the 2018 reconciliation process for tax reform.

The health care legislation also is critical to the GOP agenda because enacting the measure would lower the amount of spending cuts that could be required to enact tax cuts.

The House Agriculture Committee plans a pair of subcommittee hearings Tuesday on commodity issues and SNAP, and will have a full committee hearing Wednesday on the Farm Credit System.

Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said the committee needs to understand possible options for addressing county disparities in payments under the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program. Corn and soybean growers say the Farm Service Agency should be required to use the Risk Management Agency’s yield data, when available, for calculating ARC payments, rather than survey data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

ARC payment disparities don’t “make any sense to anybody, particularly the farmers in those regions,” Conaway told Agri-Pulse.

Conaway also is pressing ahead with considering possible reforms in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. He met privately last week with some anti-hunger groups and indicated an interest in understanding the employment challenges facing work-capable SNAP recipients.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a vote scheduled for Monday on Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, but Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he expects the vote to be pushed back. Democrats plan to filibuster the nomination on the floor but it’s not clear they can deny Gorsuch the 60 votes necessary to end debate.

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The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled a vote Thursday on Alex Acosta’s nomination to become labor secretary.

Sonny Perdue, Trump’s pick for agriculture secretary, and Robert Lighthizer, his nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, are the only other cabinet-level nominees still awaiting confirmation. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has not scheduled a vote on Perdue, but no objections to his nomination were raised at Perdue’s confirmation hearing last Thursday.

In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is expected to address demands from some Democrats and seek a waiver for Lighthizer before a committee vote – even though neither he nor the Department of Justice’s Legal Counsel believed one is needed.  

The waiver would address a 1995 statue that prohibits an individual from serving as U.S. Trade Representative if that person has “directly represented, aided, or advised a foreign entity” in “any trade negotiation, or trade dispute, with the United States.” While in private practice, Lighthizer represented a small number of foreign clients in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s - well before passage of the 1995 amendment, Hatch explained during Lighthizer’s nomination hearing.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council will be holding their annual legislative conference this week and will hear from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday and EPA Administrator Scot Pruitt on Thursday.

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

Monday, March 27

Noon - Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on the nominations of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice, Rod Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general and Rachel Brand to be associate attorney general, 226 Dirksen.

Tuesday, March 28

National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council annual legislative conference, through Thursday.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on farm bill commodity programs, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on immigration enforcement, 2141 Rayburn.

2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 1300 Longworth.

Wednesday, March 29

NCBA/PLC legislative conference.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual Global Food Security Symposium, through Thursday, Ronald Reagan Building.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Farm Credit System, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on climate science, 2318 Rayburn.

10:15 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on energy-related tax policy, 2123 Rayburn.

Thursday, March 30

NCBA/PLC legislative conference.

Global Food Security Symposium.

POSTPONED to April 5: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee considers the nomination of Alexander Acosta to be secretary of labor, 430 Dirksen.

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

3 p.m.. - USDA releases quarterly Hogs and Pigs report. 

Friday, March 31

Noon - USDA releases Prospective Plantings and Grain Stocks reports.


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