Washington Insider--Monday

Supplemental Nutrition Hearings Continue

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

USDA Issues Second RFP for HPAI Vaccine

A second request for proposals for companies interested in supplying Eurasian H5 vaccines for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been issued by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

APHIS has not approved the use of vaccine to respond to bird flu to date; however, the agency is preparing to ensure that vaccine is available should the decision be made to use it, USDA said in a news release announcing the request for proposals. "Any decision to use vaccination in a future HPAI outbreak would require careful consideration of the efficacy of the vaccine, any impacts of using HPAI vaccine in the field, and the potential trade impacts," USDA said.

In response to the first RFP issued in August, APHIS awarded contracts for doses of two vaccines for the EA H5 virus strain, which became part of the National Veterinary Stockpile.

Vaccines will be carefully evaluated for efficacy against EA H5 viruses, and products must meet all of APHIS' safety, potency, and purity standards, the agency said. Vaccine manufacturers will be evaluated on their ability to produce such vaccines in a timely manner in adequate numbers to meet the needs of the response."

"Although no decision has been made to use vaccine in the event of a future HPAI outbreak, APHIS will continue to issue RFPs for vaccine manufacturers on a quarterly basis through September 2016, to allow additional products to be developed and considered for the stockpile should an HPAI outbreak occur," the agency said.


House Panel Chairman Eyes Tax Extender Deal by Year's End

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, confirmed that there are "ongoing discussions with the Senate and with Treasury" on a possible package of permanent extensions of business tax incentives, such as the research and experimentation tax credit, equipment expensing and the biodiesel tax incentive.

Brady said the deal also could include concessions on several White House-backed incentives for individuals, which expire in 2017: the Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, Additional Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which covers some higher education expenses. He said any votes on permanent tax breaks would be contingent on a bipartisan deal.

The deal with the White House is considered a must in order to get presidential and Democratic support for tax extenders which will at least apply retroactively to this year and perhaps through 2016.


Washington Insider: Supplemental Nutrition Hearings Continue

Like much of life in Washington these days, the nearly trillion-dollar farm bill is different than it seems. It is mostly about spending programs (not savings as advocates like to say) and the nation's anti-poverty nutrition program, not farming. This means that the continuing controversy about the farm bill's focus and its rules and costs are being managed by the ag committees.

Recently, the House ag committee's new leader, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, began following up on his earlier promise for a "soup to nuts" review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as the Food Stamp Program.

The committee's review was controversial from the start because of the fights it had generated during the earlier farm bill debate and because of the Republican leadership's continuing commitment to convert the Food Stamp program to block grants for the states to administer.

Last week, the committee held its tenth hearing on the programs, under somewhat strange circumstances. The hearing had been scheduled to address a report from the National Commission on Hunger, but the report is not yet available, AgriPulse reports.

That commission spent a year and a half traveling across the country holding field hearings and site visits, and promised to "present a full picture of hunger in America," according to its co-chairs Mariana Chilton and Robert Doar. The report was supposed to be finished in October.

Democratic committee members were quick to criticize. Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern, the ranking member on the panel's subcommittee on nutrition, asserted that hunger is ultimately "a political condition," and that he hopes hearings like this aren't merely procedural theater.

"Too often when we have these debates, they end up turning into a session where people who are poor, who are struggling, are blamed and we're not talking about developing a roadmap to end hunger," McGovern said. He hopes the hearings that will actually begin to "lay groundwork for a wider discussion."

Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, was even more pointed, AgriPulse reported. She used her allotted time to question what will ultimately come out of the sessions, which she called "an exercise in futility" and "a waste of our time if we are not going to do something about it."

"I have no idea what the outcome or what we're even looking to do," Fudge said. "What I do know is that hunger is not a game. It is not something that we play with; it is life and death for far too many Americans.

"When are we going to stop talking and do something," she continued. "We can talk forever and never change one person's life. So the next hearing I want to go to about SNAP is how we're going to make it better. I don't want to hear any more of this. Enough."

In closing remarks, Conaway acknowledged that the committee's review has been lengthy, but called it "an appropriate look." He said he doesn't "know everything I need to know about [the program] ... so that's the rationale behind this long look." Committee staff indicated that the program reviews will continue in 2016, with the number and subject matter of those meetings depending upon what is learned at each hearing.

When questioned about the delay in releasing report, commission co-chair Doar said the group is broad and bipartisan. Doar emphasized that the commission was nominated by both Democratic and Republican party leadership in the House and Senate and is working hard to produce a report with unanimous support, which has required some intense discussions. Doar, a former commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration, noted that "the report could be expected in December."

Clearly, the report and the ag committee's response to it will be awaited eagerly over the coming month, given the level of polarization on food issues in the Congress. The U.S. nutrition programs are enormously large and affect millions of poor people. In spite of the extremely complicated rules, worked out over a long period of time to focus on the especially needy, the program is regarded as far too permissive by many Republicans and far too stingy by many Democrats. That is a gap that will be hard to bridge, as Doar noted.

So, it will be important to see if the commission can agree on a unanimous report, and, if so, what its recommendations might be. It also seems clear that whatever the committee recommends, the fight over national nutrition support is likely to continue, or even intensify as election year politics get fully underway, Washington Insider believes.

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