INSIDE WASHINGTON: Congress back in session

Top two issues for agriculture include reauthorizations for CFTC and child nutrition programs.

Lawmakers arrived back in town Monday, Jan. 4, to kick off the second session of the 114th Congress. Two of the likely top issues in 2016 for the agriculture committees include the reauthorizations of child nutrition programs and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the overseer of the futures markets.

Ahead of the holidays, Senate Agriculture Committee leaders made a commitment to hold a business meeting sometime this month to mark up bipartisan legislation for reauthorizing child nutrition programs. A date and time has not been set yet.

“Child nutrition reauthorization will be the committee’s first priority in the new year,” Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said. “We have combed through these programs to increase efficiency, effectiveness, flexibility and integrity. We owe it to American schoolchildren to be thorough in our work reauthorizing these important programs, and we have done just that. I’m proud to say this will be a bipartisan bill – a bill many folks said we couldn’t get done. I look forward to working with ranking member (Debbie) Stabenow (D., Mich.) to carry this across the finish line.”

Stabenow promised to get it done as soon as possible this year. “Sen. Roberts and I continue to work together with colleagues and stakeholders on a child nutrition agreement that prioritizes the needs of children while building on the successes made over the past five years,” she said.

CFTC

The end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill failed to give even a modest increase in the fiscal 2016 budget for CFTC, which brought criticism from CFTC chairman Timothy Massad. “The CFTC’s appropriation simply doesn’t match our vast responsibilities, especially as the markets we oversee have grown enormously in size, importance and technological complexity. They are critical to commercial businesses and profoundly affect the prices all Americans pay for many goods and services in our daily lives.”

Following the budget agreement, House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) reconfirmed the committee’s commitment to oversee the derivatives markets in this session of Congress. The House passed H.R. 2289 on June 9, 2015, to reauthorize CFTC, with no corresponding Senate action. The commission has not been reauthorized since September 2013.

"As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and former chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the CFTC, oversight of the derivatives markets is, and will remain, a top priority at the committee,” Conaway said. "This year, my colleagues and I held five hearings and were able to get legislation through the full House, as we did last Congress, with modest agency reforms and a new authorization for appropriations."

Conaway noted that CFTC has actively worked to prevent this legislation from crossing the finishing line, despite its reauthorization expiring in 2013 and a 16% increase in its budget last fiscal year. “I will continue to oppose any additional increases in the CFTC's budget until reauthorization is complete," Conaway said in a statement.

Also on the radar

House members are scheduled to consider legislation — likely starting Thursday — aimed at limiting sue-and-settle litigation. Government agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, have come under fire for settling lawsuits in ways that set regulations without going through the public rule-making process. As an example, the rule setting total maximum daily loads for pollution in the Chesapeake Bay was done in this fashion. The bill – H.R. 712 – would require more notification of lawsuits and the public release of settlement agreements before they’re made final.

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