WASHINGTON, April 2, 2017 – Senate Republicans look to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court this week, with Democrats poised to force the GOP leadership to make history and invoke the “nuclear” option to break a filibuster.
Also this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet President Trump on Thursday and Friday to talk about trade and security issues.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat up for re-election in 2018, announced on Friday she would oppose Gorsuch, dimming GOP hopes that there would be enough Democratic support to reach the traditional 60-vote threshold for moving high court nominations. Republicans have just 52 Senate seats, and only three Democrats so far have endorsed Gorsuch: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has made clear that he is prepared to kill the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominations, if necessary to get Gorsuch confirmed.
“Should Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer get his way, this would be the first successful filibuster of a nominee to join the Supreme Court,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday. “This would make history in a very bad way.”
Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday in Ohio that he and Trump are confident that “we will overcome the obstructionists. And the United States Senate will confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch – one way or the other.”
Farm groups are still holding out hope that the Senate will confirm Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary ahead of the two-week Easter recess, which begins at the end of this week. But Senate aides have told Agri-Pulse that is unlikely given that the Senate is tied up with Gorsuch this week and Democrats have been routinely slowing down consideration of bills and nominations.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and 14 commodity groups sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer on Friday pleading for a vote on Perdue this week.
“The list of key domestic and international issues that need to be addressed by the Secretary and his team is long and growing, particularly given the troubling economic conditions in rural America,” the letter said.
“In addition, it is important to U.S. farmers and ranchers that USDA be at the table as the administration considers recommendations on FY-2017 appropriations and on the FY-2018 budget.”
Farm groups also will be keeping an eye on Xi’s visit to Mar-a-Lago this week. Spicer said it wouldn’t be “a sit-around-and-play-patty-cake kind of conversation.”
Trump tweeted last week that the meeting would be a “very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”
China is the largest foreign buyer of U.S. soybeans and sorghum, and could be a significant market for beef and rice, but the Chinese haven’t followed through on promises to the previous administration.
The U.S. and China agreed on protocols for rice trade about a year and a half ago, but the deal was never finalized.
Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee continues its preparation for the next farm bill with additional subcommittee hearings this week on Southern commodity issues and USDA credit programs. The major focus of the commodity program will be on cotton. The industry is seeking to become eligible for the Price Loss Coverage program, and that is a top priority for Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
When the 2014 farm bill was written, the industry agreed to the creation of a revenue insurance program, the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX), in lieu of participating in PLC or the other new Title I commodity programs the bill created, Agriculture Risk Coverage.
At the time, cotton prices were averaging around 90 cents a pound. But as China ended a policy of stockpiling cotton, prices plunged to new lower levels where STAX has provided little prospect of paying off.
On Wednesday, the full House Agriculture Committee takes a break from its farm bill focus to hold a hearing on tax reform and its potential impact on agriculture. “The economics of farming and ranching make agricultural producers particularly sensitive to changes in the tax code,” said Conaway.
The estate tax and stepped-up basis are likely to be major topics of discussion. More than 30 farm organizations sent a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee last week urging permanent repeal of the estate tax and retention of stepped-up basis, which limits the amount of property value appreciation subject to capital gains taxes when inherited assets are sold.
“Because farmland typically is held by one owner for several decades, setting the basis on the value of the farm on the date of the owner’s death under stepped-up basis is an important tax provision for surviving family members,” the groups wrote.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, April 3
School Nutrition Association legislative action conference, through Tuesday.
Local Foods Impact Conference by George Washington University Food Institute and USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, through Tuesday, Jack Morton Auditorium
10 a.m. - 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, 216 Hart.
Tuesday, April 4
SNA Legislative Action Conference.
Local Foods Impact Conference.
10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on farm bill commodity programs, 1300 Longworth.
2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on farm bill credit programs, 1300 Longworth.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing on multimodal freight policy and infrastructure, 253 Russell.
Wednesday, April 5
10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing on agriculture and tax reform, 1300 Longworth.
10 a.m. - Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Scott Gottlieb’s nomination to be commissioner of the FDA, 430 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on “Facilitating the 21st Century Wireless Economy,” 2123 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the opioid crisis, 2358-C Rayburn.
5 p.m. - Council for Agricultural Science and Technology seminar, “Crop Protection Contributions Toward Agricultural Productivity,” Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel.
Thursday, April 6
CropLife America and RISE Regulatory Conference, through Friday, Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel.
President Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago, Fla.
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases the Weekly Export Sales report.
Friday, April 7
CropLife America conference.
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com