Latest News

Congress Returns to Washington With Busy Agenda Ahead

September 5, 2009


Congress Returns to Washington With Busy Agenda Ahead

Congress returns from its August recess on Tuesday, September 8. A bulk of the Senate floor time next week will be spent allowing members to memorialize Sen. Ted Kennedy.

A big question in the Senate with the passing of Kennedy is how committee chairmanships may be shuffled. Sen. Chris Dodd (CT) has been acting as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, overseeing the healthcare reform process during Sen. Kennedy’s fight with cancer. Now, the question is will Sen. Dodd retain that chairmanship, or will he return to helm the Banking Committee? If Dodd stays, then Sen. Tim Johnson will likely become chair of the Banking Committee. However, if Sen. Dodd returns to Banking, then Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) is anticipated to move to chair of HELP committee, leaving the Agriculture Committee Chair in the hands of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR). Sen. Lincoln would be the first woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Shortly before they recessed in July, the Senate passed an amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to the FY 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The amendment appropriates $350 million to USDA with the intent of assisting dairy producers. The original legislation will likely be modified in the pending House/Senate conference committee, as the amendment was a bit ambiguous and was not included in the House-passed ag appropriations bill. NMPF has looked at the economics of several different spending approaches, and found that direct purchases of cheese from the market by USDA to distribute primarily through food banks would be the most beneficial, effective, and efficient use of the funds. The House and Senate will be in conference over the next week or so working on a compromise for the differences between bills. Sources report the final bill will pass before the end of September.

In a different area, NMPF continues to work on climate change legislation, although it is not a done deal yet. Prior to the August recess, expectations were that the Senate version of the bill would be introduced in the beginning of September. According to the Environment & Public Works committee, that date has been pushed back to the end of September. NMPF has been working closely with the Sen. Harkin (IA) and Sen. Stabenow (MI) to craft the agriculture offsets piece of the legislation and expect that language will be added to the pending bill, when it is introduced.

The Senate climate bill will be constructed in at least three different committees, including the Environment and Public Works committee, as well as the Finance and Agriculture committees, which also have jurisdiction over pieces of the bill. Also, the Energy & Natural Resources committee, chaired by Sen. Bingaman (NM), has already passed out of committee the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, which addresses energy efficiency and the renewable electricity standard. This legislation will be added to the larger EPW bill.

Finally, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has reintroduced the Milk Income Tariff Equity Act bill to impose tariff-rate quotas on certain casein and milk protein concentrate products. Senate bill 1542 currently has nine sponsors. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) is planning to introduce a companion bill in the House once Congress returns.