Washington Insider-- Friday

No Congressional Budget This Year

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

GAO says USDA Needs to Improve GMO Data, Oversight

USDA needs to better collect information on the impact of mixing genetically engineered (GE) and traditional crops and improve its oversight of GE plants, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office.


While USDA surveyed organic farmers on the economic losses from an unintended presence of GE crops in their product, the agency did not do the same for farmers growing non-engineered, identity-preserved crops, which are marketed as being a specific, traditional genetic variety, the report noted.

“Without including farmers growing identity-preserved crops in addition to those growing organic crops in its survey efforts, USDA is missing key information on the potential economic impacts of unintended mixing,” a report summary said.

The GAO report made recommendations to USDA, including that the Secretary of Agriculture direct the administrator of APHIS to develop a timeline, with milestones and interim steps, for updating its existing regulations to cover GE crops developed with alternative technologies that either do not use plant pests or use plant pests but do not result in plant pest DNA in the crop developed.


California Drought Measure in House Energy-Water Bill

House appropriators have included provisions aimed at getting more water to drought-parched California into the $37.4 billion draft FY 2017 Energy and Water Development spending bill headed for a subcommittee vote on Apr. 20.

The language proposes sending more water into California’s Central Valley, in part by changing the way the health of fish are evaluated by the federal government – a sticking point for the state’s Democratic senators.

Infighting among the California delegation had prevented Congress from including similar provisions in December’s Fiscal 2016 omnibus spending measure.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee in charge of the same bill, has previously opposed the drought provisions. Including that language in the House version of the Fiscal 2017 spending bill could complicate the chances of an energy and water bill being enacted as stand-alone legislation.

The language largely tracks HR 2898 authored by David Valadao, R-Calif., which the House passed in July, 245-176. It has the support of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“The inclusion of California water provisions in the FY17 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill is the latest effort by my Californian Republican colleagues and me to press for solutions and, once passed by the House, offers the Senate another chance to consider this important legislation," McCarthy said in a statement. "Recent statements from Senator Feinstein that acknowledge more pumping is needed gives me confidence that should the Senate consider its own Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, both chambers can reach a solution."

The House draft contains policy riders that Republicans have attempted to insert before, including one that would allow firearms on Army Corps of Engineers land and one that would block any expansion of the Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule of small bodies of water.


Washington Insider: No Congressional Budget This Year

The Hill reported Thursday that House Republicans “are coming to a consensus on this year’s budget bill: There won’t be one.”

The Hill went on to say that GOP lawmakers are universally accepting now “that the party will blow past a budget deadline [today] and say voting on a budget at all this year is unlikely.” There have been murmurs for some time that this outcome was increasingly likely, but now it there is no longer any significant doubt. “That’s the way it is. C’est la vie,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., told The Hill when asked about the deadline.

Given that reality, GOP leaders are now focusing on individual appropriations bills. They hope to leapfrog the spending fight that tanked the budget blueprint while making good on at least part of Speaker Paul Ryan’s, R-Wis., high profile promise to restore regular order to the spending process.

The hopes for a budget were quashed by several dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus who rejected the House Budget Committee’s resolution “because it sticks to a spending deal negotiated last year with President Obama.” That deal capped spending at $1.07 trillion, was about $40 billion more than the previous year.

However, those caps have already been signed into law so technically the House could to skip a budget this year. Current rules would allow the House to begin voting on appropriations bills starting May 15 without first approving a spending cap. However, Ryan and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., have said for months they planned to pass a budget anyway, at least partly to allow the House to begin work immediately on the 12 annual spending bills needed to keep the government running next year.

A budget has a political meaning, as well—it would have allowed Ryan to make good on his promise to deliver a platform of conservative policy ideas during an election year when the majority’s infighting could threaten Republican control of the House. “We know the rules. I think we should pass a budget, and we’re still talking with our members on how we can get that done,” Ryan said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

But the Wisconsin Republican has been carefully lowering expectations about the GOP’s ability to pass a budget for months, The Hill said. It also became clear the Senate would not pass a budget, nixing the chances of a “reconciliation” process, which would have given the party a shot at moving filibuster-proof bills.

As early as February, at a closed-door meeting of his conference, Ryan floated the idea of skipping a budget. “It would be a shame, but the sky won’t fall if we don’t do a budget,” he said. However, as recently as March 22, Ryan suggested he would not break precedent by moving forward with the appropriations process without a budget. Asked if he would bring spending bills to the floor without a budget, Ryan told reporters then, “No, we need to do a budget.”

But, all that changed, The Hill said. On Wednesday he would only say he was not “foreclosing any options.”

Many lawmakers, including those on the House Appropriations Committee, have long accepted “the reality of a year without a budget,” The Hill said. “There’s no news there,” Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said to reporters on Wednesday.

So, as panel moved quickly and passed the bill to fund military construction and veterans affairs just hours after Ryan told the House GOP conference he didn’t have enough votes for a budget. Two other appropriations subcommittees also held markups on Wednesday, with the pace expected to pick up next week.

The idea of going without a budget was once unthinkable for a House Speaker who is a former Budget Committee chairman. In years when Democrats controlled the budgeting, Republicans harshly criticized their counterparts for missing deadlines. As recently as 2013, Ryan was a vocal supporter of a “no budget, no pay” bill in the House, after the Senate missed its deadline. The House also approved the Require Presidential Leadership and No Deficit Act from Price, which aimed to shame President Obama for missing his budget deadline.

Now, a lot depends on what happens next and whether the “good order” that Speaker Ryan pledged can be achieved through the appropriations bills now being considered. If it doesn’t, it is possible that Congressional gridlock will emerge as an even larger political issue in some tough Congressional races and could lead to second thoughts regarding positions and votes on difficult issues still to be faced in the coming weeks of this turbulent term, Washington Insider believes.

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