Washington Insider-- Monday

Keeping the Government Open

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

Senate Ag Panel Requests USDA Bird Flu Plans

Should another Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (bird flu) outbreak occur this fall, Senate Ag Committee leaders are requesting information from USDA on the plans the agency has in place for dealing with carcass disposal and disinfection, biosecurity measures, indemnifying egg and poultry producers and the use of vaccines. Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., made the requests in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Questions remain after a July hearing the panel held on bird flu impacts and the Committee wants additional information about how USDA would react to a recurrence of bird flu this fall, the letter stated.

Federal, state and farm-level response plans are sought with specific interest in depopulation, disposal, cleaning, disinfection and biosecurity measures.

Indemnity for lost value in the event of an outbreak and the resulting impact on the egg sector are other details sought by the Committee, specifically how USDA plans to calculate lost value with respect to assessments for egg-laying hen values given their two year reproductive lives. Concerns about the previous indemnification process used in the bird flu outbreak earlier this year were raised in the letter, specifically how USDA plans on streamlining the payment process to more quickly assist producers whose flocks are depopulated.

Bird flu vaccine stockpile status and plans to expand the stockpile are other questions raised in the Committee’s letter.

The Committee also questioned the strategy for dealing with apprehension by trading partners in the event a vaccine is used, as once animals are vaccinated they will test positive for infection even though they are not in fact infected.


Karla Thieman Appointed as New USDA Chief of Staff

Karla Thieman has been appointed to fill the position of USDA Chief of Staff recently vacated by Brian Baenig, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced. Thieman initially joined USDA in April 2014, serving as Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary Vilsack and more recently as Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden.

Thieman worked for the Senate Ag Committee for more than five years, serving under three Chairs of the Committee: Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Senator Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., before coming to the USDA. Thieman’s portfolio for the Senate Ag Committee included livestock, food safety, dairy, energy and climate change.

She has a degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri.


USDA and HHS Secretaries to Testify About Dietary Guidelines

A hearing with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) was announced by House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.

A letter sent in early 2015 by Conaway, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., and Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., raised concerns with the dietary guideline recommendations they received this earlier this year from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). Rep. Conaway is seeking a review of the process and current recommendations.

The hearing is scheduled to be held Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. ET.

Washington Insider: Keeping the Government Open

It appears that none of the key leaders wants to shut down the government in spite of the red-hot intensity of some of the issues being pressed. Nevertheless, the continued juggling of toxic issues is drawing additional attention to recent delays in moving a stopgap spending bill to the floor and raising new concerns that the Sept. 30 deadline for new-year funding will be missed.

In the meantime, House Republicans approved stand-alone bills to freeze funding for Planned Parenthood and tighten regulation on abortions last week. In this context, the media are noting that last week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., skipped his usual floor remarks regarding next steps.

In addition, there are new efforts by the majority to push contentious legislation: after the Senate votes early Sept. 22 on a 20-week abortion bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., apparently is considering bringing up a Continuing Resolution that includes language conservatives want to defund Planned Parenthood.

Democrats are noticing and are critical, as expected. “Essentially there is no schedule,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the press after McCarthy declined to come to the floor to outline plans.

The days left for Republican leaders to settle on the details and length of the Continuing Resolution and move it through both chambers are increasingly short. The House schedule calls for lawmakers to have only a pro forma session next Tuesday--and then not reconvene until Pope Francis addresses Congress on Thursday. After that lawmakers will have only three full legislative days to get a stopgap to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.

House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D, Md., said if Republican leaders can’t corral enough of their own members to pass a Continuing Resolution on their own, they would have to turn to Democrats, giving them leverage over the legislation’s final form.

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told the press he is encouraged by McConnell’s statements that he opposes a Continuing Resolution with a provision to defund Planned Parenthood. But Reid’s office subsequently said it is concerned about reports that McConnell is first going to schedule votes on a CR with the Planned Parenthood language before considering a clean stopgap. The expected vote on Sept. 24 would follow one already announced for Sept. 22 on the 20-week abortion bill.

Reid’s office predicted the votes would fail but will still eat up precious time as the shutdown clock ticks. Even if McConnell moves immediately after a failed vote on the first CR to a vote on a clean measure, the earliest the Senate would be able to pass that measure would be Sept. 28, three days before government funds run out, it said.

“Waiting until next Thursday to move a clean CR is an enormously risky roll of the dice,” a Reid aide said. “The reality of the Senate is that the closer we get to the deadline, the more leverage Senate rules bestow on those who want to obstruct and cause chaos.” Among others, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has vowed to mount opposition to a CR that continues funding for Planned Parenthood.

This is leading to press speculation that that House Republican leaders might be preparing to accept a clean CR if the Senate can pass the measure. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reportedly told a group of Ohio clergymen last week that he had decided he won’t bring a CR defunding Planned Parenthood to the floor. Real Clear Politics said Boehner told the group he supports the goal to defund the organization but not the tactic of using the stopgap to achieve it.

So, the will-they or won’t-they questions are unusually burning now as the leadership concentrates almost entirely on the budget, never mind the furious surrounding debates. However, the situation is both fragile and precarious and could go in several directions. Producers, among others, should watch carefully as this process continues, Washington Insider believes.

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