CONGRESS was finally earning its paycheck last week, holding hearings and votes important to agriculture as the legislative days left this year dwindle.
The Senate Agriculture Committee quickly advanced a combined bill to reauthorize livestock mandatory reporting and the Grain Standards Act. After full Senate floor action, it will head back to the House. The hope is that the House will approve the measure before the Sept. 30 expiration, which is within reach after House and Senate ag leaders agreed to compromises.
Last Thursday, the House Ways & Means Committee favorably marked up H.R. 2510, a bill that would amend the Internal Revenue Code to make bonus depreciation permanent. Bonus depreciation allows businesses to maximize investments in years when they have positive cash flow by taking a greater depreciation amount up front rather than following the standard schedule.
The House Agriculture Committee also held a series of hearings last Tuesday and Wednesday to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organization and program administration. Members of the committee heard from 25 undersecretaries, administrators and other department officials on topics relating to USDA's seven mission areas, including an accounting for each area's purpose and goals, programs administered and annual budget.
Originally, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hoped to mark up the highway bill during the week, but chairman Bill Shuster (R., Pa.) agreed to postpone doing so for a few weeks so House Ways & Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has more time to develop a funding proposal for surface transportation. Any topic related to funding must originate in the ways and means committee.
The previous week, Rep. Reid Ribble (R., Wis.) introduced a compromise trucking bill — the Safe, Flexible & Efficient Trucking Act — to give each state the option to allow semis weighing up to 91,000 lb. — provided they have added a sixth axle (22 wheels total) — to operate on the Interstate Highway System within the state. The current federal weight limit on interstates is 80,000 lb., most frequently transported via a five-axle configuration (18 wheels total).
The Coalition for Transportation Productivity, which includes several commodity groups, has officially endorsed the new legislation.
The National Grain & Feed Assn. and dairy groups also welcomed the compromise proposal, which will be included in multiyear surface transportation legislation. Funding for surface transportation projects expires at the end of October.