WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2017 – Congress returns from its five-week summer recess on Tuesday facing a massive to-do list, only complicated by the need to pass legislation to help the people of Texas and Louisiana recover from the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.
Lawmakers will also be debating how to fund the government past Sept. 30 and avoid a government shutdown, as well as whether to raise the debt limit or allow the country’s credit rating to take a hit.
Additionally, the House may take up a “semi-omnibus” appropriations bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 combining eight bills, including Agriculture, Interior-Environment, Homeland Security, Labor and Transportation. The Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting Tuesday afternoon to consider the bill (H.R. 3354 – the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, 2018). Hundreds of amendments have been offered for the legislation, including dozens specifically affecting agriculture.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., says hurricane relief will be a top agenda item as lawmakers get back to work. The country needs to “come together” to help people affected by Harvey, she said. “Certainly, as a country, we need to have each other’s backs,” she said, adding that was the case when the government provided aid during the Flint water crisis in her home state.
The White House is asking Congress to approve $7.9 billion in emergency aid related to Harvey, with the lion’s share going directly to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief efforts. One official described the request as a “down payment,” indicating further requests would be forthcoming.
Republican Michael McCaul, who comes from Texas and who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, told a press conference in his home state that he expects federal relief to eventually top the almost $51 billion Congress provided following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He said the people of Texas and Louisiana had suffered a “Katrina scale – if not greater – disaster.” McCaul’s district stretches from the outskirts of Houston to Austin.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is warning GOP leaders not to tie a bill raising the debt limit to Harvey aid to ease passage of the controversial measure before an Sept. 29 deadline. That would be a “terrible idea” and only complicate efforts to pass other critical legislation, Meadows said last week. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on “Fox News Sunday” said he and President Trump were in favor of such linkage.
Trump, meanwhile, will be traveling to North Dakota on Wednesday for a speech on updating the tax code, including getting rid of the estate tax, which critics call the death tax reform
Outside of Washington, a second round of talks aimed at bringing the North American Free Trade Agreement up to date began late last week in Mexico. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo are scheduled to hold a joint press conference on the proceedings after talks conclude on Tuesday.
Speaking of trade, more reports are surfacing about Trump’s threat to withdraw from the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement, a move that the agriculture sector generally opposes. The Washington Post quotes unnamed sources as saying the formal withdrawal process could begin as early as this week.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., criticized Trump’s position on the deal. “His administrations holds 18th century views of trade as a zero-sum game,” Sasse said in a statement released over the weekend. “I side with our farmers and ranchers who are feeding the world now.”
On a warmer note, The House on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on legislation to award former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole the Congressional Gold Medal. The award, in recognition of Dole’s “service to the nation as a soldier, legislator and statesman,” is the highest honor Congress can award to a civilian. The Senate approved the measure unanimously before leaving on its August recess. The legislation was introduced by fellow Kansans Lynn Jenkins in the House and Pat Roberts in the Senate.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Sept. 4
Labor Day holiday
NAFTA negotiations continue in Mexico City, through Sept. 5
Tuesday, Sept. 5
Second round of NAFTA negotiates conclude in Mexico City. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his counterparts from Mexico and Canada are planning a joint news conference.
Congress returns from its five-week summer recess.
4 p.m. – House Rules Committee meets to consider H.R. 3354, the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018 (Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act), Capitol building, H-313.
4 p.m. – Crop Progress report
Wednesday, Sept. 6
9 a.m. - Economic Research Service releases report on Food Insecurity, followed by 11 a.m. webinar.
President Trump addresses tax reform in a speech in North Dakota.
Thursday, Sept. 7
3 p.m. – USDA Updates U.S. Agricultural Trade Data.
Friday, Sept. 8
8:30 a.m. – USDA releases weekly export sales report.
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