Washington Insider-- Monday

First Look at Stopgap From Senate Leaders

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

Clearer View of GMO Labeling Rules Before 2017: Vilsack

USDA will probably release a notice of proposed rulemaking for GMO labeling regulations before year's end, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. He added the department will also probably send a request for a proposal in October for a study on the effectiveness of disclosing GMO information electronically.

Vilsack said he hopes USDA will complete the study in the summer of 2017. "We are very committed to getting this done in the time frame that Congress has directed," Vilsack told the department's Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture.

Congress must pass a measure to fund the government by September 30, and Vilsack said lawmakers should use that opportunity to fund the study as well. Otherwise, the rulemaking process could be delayed, he said. "We are in the process of trying to encourage our friends in Congress as they deal with the budget process at the end of this fiscal year, either through a continuing resolution or through a budget, to basically state unequivocally that the resources will be there for us to do the study," he said.

Vilsack stressed the need for transparency to the public and the U.S. international trading partners when writing the labeling rules. "We want to do this well," he said. "We want to reduce the risk of litigation questions that could potentially arise, as they often do in rulemaking," Vilsack said. Vilsack also said the USDA would work to make sure any labeling rules are compliant with World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments.

Progress Seen Between US Admin., Congress on TPP

Progress is being made on key sticking points for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact between the Obama administration and Congress, particularly on the issue of patents terms for biologic drugs, according to remarks to reporters by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R., Utah.

No further details were offered by Hatch, but he expressed hope that a solution could be found. "We haven't decided the final terms, but they have indicated to me that they know they have to make" an acceptable offer, Hatch said adding that "it's up to the White House. I've told them this is a serious situation and not one they can blithely step aside on."

The administration wants TPP to be ratified during the lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections. Hatch said resolving what he termed "the biggest problem" with the pact would "go a long way" toward improving prospects for post-election ratification of the agreement. Without a resolution to the biologics issue, TPP would not pass Congress, he said. However, even if his concerns are addressed, Hatch cautioned the pact would still have a "rough time passing."

Washington Insider: First Look at Stopgap From Senate Leaders

Bloomberg reported over the weekend that a bill to deal with perhaps the foremost issue on most everybody's mind, which is how to fund the government after the fiscal year ends, is beginning to take shape.

The details of a new continuing resolution, especially the list of legislative provisions that could take a ride on the must-pass bill are expected to begin to emerge this week, soon after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other leaders from both parties meet today with President Barack Obama to discuss the deal. A measure, which is expected to fund the government only into early December, then may move to the floor after the Senate votes on a water projects bill, lawmakers said.

McConnell told Bloomberg that negotiations with the White House and congressional Democrats already have been underway for days and Senate leaders are eager to move a continuing resolution funds government spending through Dec. 9. McConnell indicated that the stopgap also may carry more than $1 billion in Zika funds. Other lawmakers said the measure may contain relief for disaster-affected states, such as Louisiana.

McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., hope to move the measure quickly enough to prevent a lapse in government funding on Sept. 30. The stopgap is necessary because none of the annual appropriations bills have been completed and sent to the President's desk.

Still, details of the continuing resolution—including whether Obama will get the full $1.9 billion requested for combating the Zika outbreak—probably won't be known until McConnell prepares to bring it up on the floor. "[W]e're in discussions about how to work out some of the differences that we had that led to the Democrats filibustering Zika funding," McConnell said. Action on the stopgap is one of the few must-dos before Congress departs again for the campaign trail.

McConnell recently announced plans to move a continuing resolution ahead of the House, where Ryan held back discussing his own preferences for a continuing resolution's length and said both a three-month and six-month continuing resolution are under discussion.

The Speaker earlier discussed the pros and cons of both at last week's closed-door meeting of Republicans but said he doesn't favor a 12-bill omnibus in a post-election session, meeting attendees told Bloomberg. Ryan favors acting on either individual bills or more "minibus" packages combining measures, they said after the session.

Still, it remains unclear whether House Republican leaders have the 218 votes necessary to pass a three-month continuing resolution on the floor without Democratic votes. Shortly after the closed-door meeting, the Heritage Foundation issued a statement saying lawmakers should try to avoid considering any spending legislation in the lame duck.

"If Congress is unable to conclude the FY 2017 regular appropriations process by the beginning of November, a partial year appropriation would be most appropriate in order to move the funding debate to the 115th Congress," the conservative group said in a brief.

After the meeting with Ryan, members said they now expect Zika funds to be in whatever continuing resolution is brought to the floor. But still unclear is whether Republicans will try to retain restrictions on Planned Parenthood clinics or other "poison pill" riders that Democrats oppose.

These include a White House plan to help the Export-Import Bank make loans and another to help Iraq combat ISIS, which was on a White House list for inclusion in the continuing resolution. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is pushing for language to prevent the White House from transferring U.S. control of internet domain names to an international organization, and perhaps other highly controversial measures.

Also underway is an effort by members of the Louisiana delegation to get more than $2 billion to help the state recover from massive flooding last month. At a House hearing last month, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., said he's working with other members to win "a full recovery package" for the state which Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, told an Oversight and Government Reform panel would require perhaps $8.7 billion, far more than the funds likely available through the community Development Block Grant program.

So, even as the clock runs out on efforts to avoid a government shut-down, there is still talk of poison pill riders that a number of tea party members want to see. At this time, the Republican leadership seems solidly in favor of working out a compromise that can be passed quickly. However, this Congress is so highly politicized that it is likely to be uncertain until the very last minute whether or how a shutdown can be avoided, Washington Insider believes.

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