The House and Senate are back in session and back bickering over funding for the rest of this fiscal year. The current continuing resolution funds the government through Friday, but there are still big differences between the two houses of Congress, and the differences go well beyond just money. The House wants to include riders to any budget bill that the Senate and the administration are unwilling to accept. These include defunding the health care bill, restricting several EPA regulations and cutting federal funding for organizations that provide abortions. The House is still calling for budget cuts totaling $61 billion for this year, while the Senate is pushing for $10 billion in cuts. A government shut-down looms as a real possibility unless some big compromises take place.
Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its first farm bill hearing on April 9 at Michigan State University, announced Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). In an interview, Stabenow said the next farm bill should reexamine the direct payments program, expand crop insurance to cover more crops, continue the sugar program, continue the specialty crops program started in the 2008 farm bill, and use the National Milk Producers Federations’ “Foundation for the Future” as the starting point for reforming the dairy program.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted EPA’s request to delay the deadline for it to implement the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to Oct. 31. The previous deadline was April 9. Several steps still must be completed before the program can be permitted by both federal and state officials. The program could affect about 365,000 pesticide applicators and some 5.6 million applications each year. The new program is required because of a 2009 court decision that ruled EPA cannot exempt pesticide users from the Clean Water Act requirements. Prior to the ruling, permits were not required for pesticide applications as long as they were in compliance with pesticide labels. The House has passed a bill that states permits are not required when applying pesticides according to EPA labels. The Senate has not yet voted on the issue.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson attempted to dispel some of what she calls the myths that are circulating about potential EPA rule changes. In testimony to the House Agriculture Committee, Jackson said there is not now and has never been any plan to regulate emissions from cows. The myth was started by a lobbyist in 2008 and was quickly debunked by the non-partisan factcheck.org but it continues to circulate. Jackson also says EPA has no plans to regulate dust from farm operations, another myth that continues to surface. On the myth of EPA treating milk spills the same as they would oil spills, Jackson said that the problem was the very broad language used by Congress in drafting the legislation and EPA is finalizing rules to exempt milk from the law.
Congressional efforts to repeal the new 1099 small business reporting requirement are stalled. It is not that members of Congress oppose the change. In fact both the House and the Senate have passed bills that would repeal the requirement. The problem is that the 1099 reporting requirement would raise some $20 billion of revenue and Congress has not been able to find a way to make up for the revenue that will be lost if the requirement is repealed. The 1099 reporting requirement doesn’t go into effect until next January and most people expect Congress to find a way to repeal it. In the current deficit reducing environment, the process is not as easy as just voting one way or the other.
The debate over the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia continues. The administration says it is ready to submit the agreement with South Korea to Congress for approval, but is not yet satisfied with some parts of the other two agreements. Some republicans say they will block the agreement with South Korea unless the other two agreements are submitted at the same time.
The head of the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax and trade legislation, is encouraging the president to move forward with the South Korea agreement. According to fast-track rules, Congress has 90 days from the time the implementing legislation is proposed to vote on the agreement.