Both the House and Senate are out of session this week, but next week action will pick up considerably on several items of importance to those in agricultural sectors, including the potential full Senate vote on Secretary of Agriculture designee Tom Vilsack and the nomination hearing for U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai. The House Agriculture Committee also plans to tackle its first hearing on climate change.
The full Senate plans to take up the confirmation of Vilsack’s nomination in floor action Tuesday where he’s expected to easily gain approval. His hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month was not controversial.
There was hope a confirmation vote would come earlier in February, but a hold was placed on the nomination by a Republican member without explanation, however it likely had to do with the impeachment proceedings.
“Some things—big, important things—just cannot happen without a secretary and the longer it drags on, the further out those big decisions are pushed,” says Matt Herrick, USDA director of communications.
As normal with new administrations coming in halting last minute regulations, the third installment of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced just days before Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue left office in January was frozen. Seth Meyer, USDA chief economist, says those CFAP funds remain frozen and there is a desire to better understand how funds were allocated and whether there are gaps in funding. He says discussions likely will “happen in earnest should the secretary be confirmed next week,” in resuming those payments or making needed adjustments, Meyer says.
Tai hearing scheduled
The Senate Finance Committee plans to hold its nomination hearing for the consideration of Tai to be the U.S. Trade Representative on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 10 a.m. ET. The Committee’s livestream of the hearing will be available on the website at http://finance.senate.gov/hearings.
At the end of January, a coalition of 115 U.S. food and agriculture associations called for the swift confirmation of Tai. In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, the groups cite Tai’s qualifications and demonstrated ability to build bipartisan support for trade policies, as well as her experience in opening foreign markets and reducing barriers for U.S. food and agriculture workers and exporters.
Related: Tai nominated as USTR ambassador
They submit that her expertise securing greater market access for U.S. products and ensuring enforcement of clear and fair rules with trade partners will ensure the opportunity for U.S. food and agriculture to fairly compete in the global economy.
House Ag Committee looks at climate change
While speaking at the USDA Ag Outlook forum on Feb. 18, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., says hunger and food insecurity, the status of African-American farmers and farmers of color and of course climate change are the “big three” topics he will focus on as he takes over the leadership of the House Agriculture Committee.
The House Agriculture Committee will take its first deep dive into climate change and the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors in a hearing scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 25 at 12:30 ET. (Note this is an updated time, changed from originally scheduled on Tuesday.) The livestream of the hearing can be viewed here.
Also speaking at the Ag Outlook Forum, Scott’s counterpart who serves as the ranking member, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., says the impact of climate on agriculture production and the environment is of great importance, yet notes there are different approaches.
“Our approach to overcoming this issue must favor pro-growth solutions over burdensome overregulation,” he says. In the 2018 Farm Bill, arguably the greenest farm bill ever, he says Congress was able to provide improved voluntary incentive based programs to help farmers implement even more practices to sequester carbon, reduce emissions, and adopt more energy efficient farming practices.
“And we will build upon this progress in this Congress, continuing to build on the conservation success of American farmers will reap additional emissions benefits and increase US farming's competitive advantage globally,” Thompson says. “The wrong approach with burdensome regulations and policies dramatically increase costs harm rural economies displacing US production with that of less efficient foreign producers, leading to an increase in global emissions.”
The first action by the House Agriculture Committee was its efforts to establish the parameters of ag funding in the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. House members are expected to return for their first votes on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 23, and could continue work on the American Rescue Plan in the House over the weekend.