WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2017 - The Senate is close to finally confirming two key nominees for the Agriculture Department this week, and lawmakers also are moving budget resolutions that will pave the way for the GOP’s No. 1 priority, cutting business and personal taxes.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will meet just off the Senate floor Monday evening to vote on the nominations of Steve Censky to be deputy agriculture secretary and Ted McKinney to be USDA’s first undersecretary for trade. Neither nomination is controversial and should move quickly to final votes by the full Senate.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is eager to have Censky and McKinney in place, as he has been the only Senate-confirmed nominee at USDA since he took office in late April.
“We’ll continue to move nominations as quickly as possible,” said Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “It’s crucial to have Secretary Perdue at the helm at USDA and we need to get his team assembled.”
Censky is the longtime CEO of the American Soybean Association, while McKinney is Indiana agriculture director. He earlier spent 19 years with Dow AgroSciences and 14 years with Elanco, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Co.
At their Sept. 19 hearing, the two men promised to be forceful advocates for expanding domestic and international markets.
On Thursday, the Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing for a second pair of USDA nominees that Roberts also hopes to move quickly to confirmation: Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, President Trump’s pick to be undersecretary for farm and conservation programs, and Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, the pick for undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs.
Those positions will be critical to advising Congress on development of the new farm bill and implementing Trump’s policy initiatives at USDA. Roberts said he didn’t anticipate problems with moving either nomination.
Also on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Gregg Doud to be chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative. Doud, the president of the Commodity Markets Council, was a senior aide to the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2011 to 2013 and assisted in drafting what would become the 2014 farm bill.
The Kansas native previously served eight years as chief economist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The budget resolutions that will advance in the Senate and House this week also will have implications for the farm bill, as well as a tax bill.
The House is expected to vote Thursday on its version, which would require $10 billion in cuts to farm bill spending over 10 years while also allowing for tax reform. The cut that the resolution would instruct the House Agriculture Committee to make is intended to come out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has introduced an amendment to exempt SNAP from the cut, but the measure is certain to be rejected by the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee on Tuesday when it considers the rule for debating the resolution.
The Senate version, which the Budget Committee released on Friday, has no such reconciliation instructions to the Senate Agriculture Committee. The committee is expected to vote on the resolution this week.
Roberts, R-Kan., told Agri-Pulse earlier that a farm bill can’t pass the Senate if the legislation cuts SNAP and nothing else. “You can’t target SNAP over in the Senate and expect to get the votes necessary to get to 60,” the number of votes needed to end a filibuster, he said.
Also on Monday, Perdue will host a regulatory-reform listening session on Monday on USDA’s regulatory-reform efforts. The session is being held in conjunction with similar events at all other agencies to showcase the administration’s strategy for regulatory reform and significantly increase the pace of reform across the federal government.
Roberts separately plans to hold a committee hearing this fall on regulatory-reform issues.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Oct. 2
9 a.m. - USDA releases Commodity Costs and Returns report.
2 p.m. - Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue holds listening session on regulatory reform, USDA Whitten Building.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
5:45 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee meeting to vote on nominations of Steve Censky to be deputy agriculture secretary and Ted McKinney to be undersecretary for trade, S-216 Capitol.
Tuesday, Oct. 3
9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum on rebuilding rural infrastructure, National Press Club.
2 p.m. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on “Powering America: Defining Reliability in a Transforming Electricity Industry,” 2123 Rayburn.
3 p.m. - House Rules Committee hearing on the rule for the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, H-313 Capitol.
Wednesday, Oct. 4
10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the air quality impact of wildfires, 2123 Rayburn.
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on the nominations of Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross and William Wehrum to be assistant administrators of EPA, 406 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Washington International Trade Association forum with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on the North American Free Trade Agreement, International Trade Center.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Budget Committee markup of the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, 608 Dirksen.
Thursday, Oct. 5
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
9:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing for Bill Northey to be USDA’s undersecretary for farm and conservation programs and Greg Ibach to be undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, 328A Russell.
10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on the nomination of Gregg Doud to be chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, 215 Dirksen.
10:30 a.m. - Senate Budget Committee continues markup of its FY18 budget resolution, 216 Hart.
Friday, Oct. 6
11 a.m. - Public session of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research board, AAAS Auditorium, 12th St NW & H St NW.
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